Drug cartels eyeing GCC, warns ex-Venezuelan police chief

Muscat - 

Former Venezuelan police commissioner Johan Obdola has seen the danger of drug cartels from around the world, and now he’s warning that they are looking to penetrate the GCC.

Obdola, the president and founder of the International Organization for Security and Intelligence (IOSI), was recently in Muscat to give expertise at the ‘CyberSense 2016’ cybersecurity conference. “There’s money here. Every criminal organisation would love to put their foot here,” he said in an interview. “It’s very attractive.”

Obdola’s own life story tells the threat of drug cartels.

Despite being a police officer, in 1997, Obdola had to flee his country and seek refuge in Canada due to the rise of the cartels. They had infiltrated the army, judiciary and politics. Obdola had been investigating them, and he went too far.

“The drug cartels were getting very strong. They killed a few of my officers, and in Venezuela at that time, that was very weird.

“Even myself, I was shot at a few times. They tried to kill me many times, they tried to bribe me many times.”

Obdola says he was the chief of anti-narcotics at the time, and was pursing Cartel del Sol, ‘Cartel of the Sun’, which was tied to the Venezuelan military. “The chiefs of that cartel were active generals of the national guard,” Obdola said. “I started looking. I conducted many successful anti-narcotics operations – 700 kilos, 2,000 kilos, airplanes, everything. And then they started hitting me back very hard.”

Now, with IOSI, Obdola helps advise and train governments to combat the threat. In the GCC, Obdola says drugs are smuggled by ship cargo or air. This can be cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin, or so-called synthetic ‘smart drugs’.

According to him, the drugs start from Latin America and transit in West Africa, before heading to the Middle East.

Obdola says it’s not just about the cartels themselves, but their links to militant groups - known as narcoterrorism. “We are looking at Africa as the nexus of narcoterrorism. Criminal groups and drug cartels from Latin America working along with Al Qaeda or other radical groups in Africa moving drugs,” he said.

It’s not just about smuggling. These groups will create front companies which hide the flow of money. It’s a cautionary note for a country like Oman that wants to open up for tourism and promote foreign investment.

“Wherever there’s a market, wherever there’s a flourishing tourist industry, there are opportunities and ways that they will be looking to get into,” Obdola said. “We believe already that in this region we have operatives from Latin America. They do business, there’s many ways for them to come over.”

And the reason Obdola was in Oman was for another threat: Cybercrime. Instead of exerting the effort to smuggle and sell drugs, cartels are using the Internet to extort money. Obdola said it is now even more serious than drugs. For example, cartels can develop software that can penetrate banking systems.

“They are diversifying their business. Now you have structured criminal entities and narcoterrorist entities getting into this business,” he said.

Obdola recommends Oman to continue coordination and information sharing with other countries to help combat the threat. “If the problem is not really concerning yet, Oman has to be on very high alert, because these guys are looking already to establish something stronger in this region.”

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