The Boston Files Part 2: Follow the Money, Not the Drugs

When most Americans think of the 1980s, they fondly remember big hair, mini skirts, and John Hughes movies, not the crack epidemic that tore through the inner cities ravaging African American communities or the explosion of opium production that happened both during and after the Afghan-Soviet war. With the rise of Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, one of the world’s first highly organized criminal enterprises focused on a single product, came unimaginable death, destruction and devastation during the age of Punky Brewster and MTV. In September 1986, U.S. President Ronald Reagan broadcast live a message of urgency and warning about drug use while his wife peddled her “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign geared towards American children. But what Reagan’s viewers didn’t realize at the time, as they glued themselves to their TV set on that warm autumn night, was that the Reagan administration had been working directly with known drug traffickers the entire time.

Panama’s former dictator Manuel Noriega, who some say became a CIA informant as early as the 1950s, is a looming example in American history of the U.S. government’s complicity in the illicit arms and drug trade. During the late 1960s, Noriega trained at the U.S. School of Americas which has long been known for churning out godless mercenaries unleashed throughout Latin America. In 1968, he became the head of Panama’s military intelligence after President Arnulfo Arias was overthrown in a coup. And by the late 1970s, the CIA, led by George H.W. Bush, was already aware of Noriega’s criminal dealings which escalated after he became Panama’s de facto ruler in 1983.

After the coup of 1968, Panama’s government was ruled by the military (the Panamanian Defense Force or PDF) which Noriega commanded after the de facto head of state, Omar Torrijos, was killed in a plane crash in 1981. Prior to his death, Torrijos and President Carter signed the Torrijos-Carter Treaties (after George H. W. Bush left the CIA) which detailed the Panama Canal’s transfer of ownership from the U.S. to Panama, a significant development that acknowledged the small country’s sovereignty. After Torrijos was killed on July 31, 1981, six months after Bush became vice president under Reagan, there was speculation that the U.S. was behind the downing of his airplane.

As for Noriega, he relished the power that Torrijos’ death left behind and quickly became Panama’s new de facto leader. He opened the country’s banks and runways to Escobar and other traffickers as a means to move narcotics and wash millions in narco-dollars through financial institutions such as Colombia’s Panamanian branch of Banco de Occidente and the BCCI. In the mid-1980s, Dr. Hugo Spadafora, a beloved Italian-Panamanian activist who “unlike his peers, morals and justice were more a driving force than fashioning himself under a political banner,” protested against Noriega’s corruption only to be brutally tortured and beheaded in September 1985. His head was never recovered.

Although Noriega was eventually charged and convicted of Hugo’s murder in 1993, the U.S. continued to work with him between the time of the murder up until he was ousted by American troops in 1989. Perhaps the CIA felt that it had been enough to cut off the sopló’s $200K/year salary.

Bush and Noriega, 1983. Sygma | Corbis via The Guardian

Then there was the Iran-Contra scandal which in sum was a U.S.-directed operation to sell arms to Iran to free American hostages and then illegally bypass Congress to use those funds to support the Contras in Nicaragua, a right-wing oppositional force that wanted to overthrow the left-wing Sandinista government. Noriega assisted the United States in trafficking weapons to the Contras as early as 1982, in an operation called Black Eagle that was run by a U.S.-handpicked Mossad agent working inside Noriega’s inner circle:

“Soon after Noriega was brought into the Black Eagle operation, he began to commandeer Black Eagle planes and pilots for drug-running flights to the southern United States…U.S. policy makers struck a devil’s bargain with Noriega. Under terms of the deal, one percent of the gross income generated by the drug flights was set aside to buy additional weapons for the contras. This eventually amounted to several million dollars.”

Despite Operation Black Eagle, on March 16, 1986, Reagan told the American public that every parent “concerned about the drug problem will be outraged to hear that top Nicaraguan government officials are deeply involved in drug trafficking.” Perhaps more unbelievable is the fact that less than two months later Oliver North met with Noriega in Panama to “collaborate on a plan…to support the Contras in return for American money and arms.”

“They discussed sabotaging a Nicaraguan airport and oil refinery, as well as creating a program to train Contra and Afghan mujahedeen commandos in Panama with Israeli help.”

“North was clearly enthusiastic about the potential partnership with Noriega. In an earlier email selling the proposal to one of his superiors, he wrote that ‘we might have available a very effective, very secure means of doing some of the things which must be done if the Nicaragua project is going to succeed. … I believe we could make the appropriate arrangements w/ reasonable OPSEC and deniability.’” (The Intercept)

Afghan Mujahideen…training in Panama. On August 23, 1986, North sent an email to Reagan’s National Security Advisor, John Poindexter, stating that if the U.S. helped “clean up” Noriega’s image and lifted an arms ban to the Panamanian Defense Force, Noriega would “‘take care of’ the Sandinista leadership.” Three weeks later Ronald and Nancy Reagan sat in the White House clutching their pearls on national television over the nation’s drug epidemic. According to The Intercept, the entire sordid affair of the U.S. funding the Contras from the sale of arms to Iran was exposed before the plans between Noriega and the U.S. came to fruition.

 “President Reagan meets with Contra leaders at the White House. Oliver North is at far right. When this photo was officially released North’s image was cut out” via The National Security Archive.

Bill Clinton has also long been accused of being aware that while he was governor of Arkansas, the airport in Mena was used as the base of operations for “secret arms going out to the Nicaraguan contras and cocaine being smuggled back in.” But it wasn’t just the government, Noriega, or their patsies who were facilitating and protecting the cocaine trade. According to a member of the Sicilian Mafia, Antonino Giuffre, the Sicilians “provided Pablo Escobar’s Medellin drug cartel in Colombia with advice on military strategy.” As he put it, they had “a very important role in the strategy of the Colombian guerrilla war conducted by Escobar’s Medellin gang,” and they acted as “military advisors” to the cartel.

The 1980s, however, were not just about cocaine, Contras, and cartels. It was about opium and heroin base flowing out of Southwest Asia during the Soviet-Afghan war and a little known investigation into La Mina that blew wide open a global money laundering and narcotics ring operating between Latin America, Europe, Southwest Asia, and the United States.

Sicilians Take Over the French Connection

For over thirty years, the French Mafia dabbled in the heroin business and at the peak of their success in the late 1960s they were importing up to 80% of America’s “total heroin consumption.” The operation was called the “French Connection” and it was run by members who almost exclusively came from the small French island of Corsica. But when Turkey cracked down on opium production during the early 70s, a declassified CIA document from 1971 noted that:

“French heroin traffickers are currently purchasing as much opium and morphine base as possible in order to build up their stocks of narcotics raw material before licit Turkish opium production ceases at the end of 1972…If adequate supplies are not forthcoming from Yugoslavia, however, these traffickers may turn to either Pakistani-Afghan sources or Southeast Asian sources.” (CIA Reading Room)

Indeed. Within a year of this memo, French authorities, with the help of U.S. agents, virtually decimated the French Connection and when the Soviets rolled into Afghanistan seven years later, everyone left was looking at Southwest Asia as a new supply source, including the Turkish mafia. From part one of this series: “The ISI in turn steered the CIA’s support toward Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Islamic fundamentalist. Mr. Hekmatyar received almost half of the agency’s financial support during the [Soviet-Afghan] war…But many of his commanders were also major heroin traffickers….Soon the trucks that delivered arms to the guerrillas in Afghanistan were coming back down the Khyber Pass full of heroin.”

Hekmatyar alone owned at least six heroin factories during the war and “opium revenues were ending up in offshore accounts in the Habib Bank, one of Pakistan’s largest, and in the accounts of BCCI,” the latter of which was favored by the CIA. Although it’s unknown if the Turkish mafia was purchasing heroin from Hekmatyar’s factories specifically, they would purchase opium or heroin base in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iran, move it to Bulgaria, and then smuggle it into Italy through ports like Palermo and Trieste.

Richard J. Kerr, the Deputy Director of CIA at that time, meeting with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Islamabad in 1988 via

After filling the void left behind by the French Connection, the Sicilian Mafia undoubtedly became one of the world’s most notorious traffickers with the help of the Turkish mafia. Once the heroin was moved into Sicily, they smuggled it into the U.S. and Canada to the five mafia families of New York like the Bonanno family and the Rizzutos of Montreal who would then distribute it to street level dealers. According to the testimony of Reagan’s DEA chief, John Lawn, by 1985, Southeast Asia (Thailand, Laos, and Burma) was supplying only 17% of the heroin reaching U.S. shores whereas Southwest Asia (Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran) was supplying 49%. The Sicilian mafia alone was importing at least 330 pounds a year using smuggling routes that ran through the Balkans.

The Turkish-Bulgarian Connection

According to a 2011 Interpol report, the central route used to smuggle heroin through the Balkans ran through Turkey, Bulgaria, one of the former Yugoslav republics, and into Sicily. By the early 1980s, Bulgaria was already known for its drug trafficking and guns-for-drugs network, shipping heroin “from the Middle East to North America and Europe and in return weapons would be sent to Syria, Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon.” It had also become the base of operations for the Turkish mafia.

“One of the new kingpins who emerged was a Turkish shipowner, Yasar Avni Musullulu, who tapped the burgeoning supplies available in Pakistan—thanks to the tons of opium produced in Afghanistan by mujahedin allies of the U.S. and Pakistani intelligence services. Musullulu reportedly supplied the Sicilian Mafia with nearly eight tons of morphine base—worth more than $20 billion in street sales—during the mid-1980s.”

What made the trafficking through Bulgaria so scandalous was that the Bulgarian state-owned import/export company Kintex, which was managed by top Bulgarian intelligence officers, was directly implicated in the operation. Not surprisingly, as early as the mid- to late 1970s, the U.S. was aware of Kintex’s activities according to a January 1976 cable published by WikiLeaks:

“That Bulgaria does in fact supply arms and ammunition to third world countries seems reasonably well established, inter alia, by information passed along by the Turkish police…DAO and other intelligence reports repeatedly name the Bulgarian foreign trade organization ‘Kintex’ as the arms-running agent and Kintex trucks are prominent on the E-5, the highway leading from Europe through Turkey to the Middle East.”

And the meta data from another cable sent to the U.S. State Department, the subject line of which reads “Activities of Bulgarian Foreign Trade Organization Kintex,” shows that on October 18, 1976, the embassy was focused on Kintex’s ties to drug trafficking and arms smuggling. According to journalist Bill Blakemore:

“The third case in which the Bulgarian Secret Service stands implicated here is a massive heroin-for-arms smuggling ring just broken. Investigators believe over 8000 pounds of unprocessed heroin was moved from the Middle East through Bulgaria to Palermo, Sicily for refining and shipment to the United States. The money from the heroin sales then going to buy arms, including tanks and helicopters, for the Middle East, especially Iran.”

Blakemore believed that the people behind these deals and operations included men like Bekir Celenk, a wealthy Turkish businessman who was reportedly “deeply involved in the plot to kill the pope.”

The Turkish Mafia et al

To be fair, Bekir Celenk, other Turkish nationals, the KGB, Bulgarian intelligence, and the Grey Wolves—a far-right neo-fascist Turkish organization tied to both Celenk and the Turkish mafia—were all charged, implicated, or accused by authorities, confession, or insinuation of taking part in the 1981 plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II. What we do know for sure is that a Turkish mafioso named Mehmet Ali Agca was the one who pulled the trigger and shot the pope four times. And this wasn’t Agca’s first rodeo at gunning people down.

“The Agca Saga” via the CIA Reading Room

In 1979, Abdullah Catli, then-leader of the Grey Wolves, helped Agca escape prison after he murdered a left-wing Turkish journalist. More about their relationship via a 1997 article by Martin A. Lee:

“In addition to harboring Agca, Catli supplied him with fake IDs and directed Agca’s movements in West Germany, Switzerland, and Austria for several months prior to the papal attack. Catli enjoyed close links to Turkish drug mafiosi, too. His Grey Wolves henchmen worked as couriers for the Turkish mob boss Abuzer Ugurlu.”

“At Ugurlu’s behest, Catli’s thugs criss-crossed the infamous smugglers’ route passing through Bulgaria. Those routes were the ones favored by smugglers who reportedly carried NATO military equipment to the Middle East and returned with loads of heroin. Judge Carlo Palermo, an Italian magistrate based in Trento, discovered these smuggling operations while investigating arms-and-drug trafficking from Eastern Europe to Sicily.”

“Palermo disclosed that large quantities of sophisticated NATO weaponry — including machine guns, Leopard tanks and U.S.-built Cobra assault helicopters — were smuggled from Western Europe to countries in the Middle East during the 1970s and early 1980s. According to Palermo’s investigation, the weapon delivers were often made in exchange for consignments of heroin that filtered back, courtesy of the Grey Wolves and other smugglers, through Bulgaria to northern Italy.”

As if things couldn’t get any more convoluted and incestuous in this story, Lee also reported that the U.S. government “had its hooks into the Bulgarian smuggling scene, as evidenced by the CIA’s use of Kintex to channel weapons to the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the early 1980s.” (His article On the Trail of Turkey’s Terrorist Grey Wolves about the organization’s ties to terrorism, trafficking, the infamous Susurluk car crash, and even the Vatican Bank is well worth the read.)

As for Celenk, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce report, he was also linked to Haci Mirza, the alleged “heir to Musullulu’s narcotics empire,” and Mehmet Cantas, a convicted arms smuggler who was tried in absentia with Mirza back in 1971 for arms trafficking. In 1987, Mirza was arrested in Ticino, Switzerland after authorities seized 80 kilos of morphine and 20 kilos of heroin in a trafficking operation that linked back to him. At the time, it was the largest seizure in Swiss history but what would make it a national scandal was a phone number found on Mirza that led to two Lebanese brothers, Jean and Barghev Magharian.

The Lebanese Connection: Shakarchi Trading

In the early 1980s, Lebanese currency dealer, Mohamed Shakarchi, founded Shakarchi Trading, a foreign exchange firm that held at least one account at Edmond Safra’s Republic Bank of New York, likely due to his father, Mahmoud, who was a long-time friend of Safra’s until his death in 1983. Safra, a Brazilian-Lebanese banker, co-founded Hermitage Capital in the mid-1990s with Bill Browder, a financier who renounced his U.S. citizenship and then manipulated U.S. foreign policy with a bogus piece of legislation called the Magnitsky Act after Russia kicked him out for financially raping their country.

Prior to his death, Mahmoud founded and managed a gold and currency trading firm that “consisted of purchasing gold scraps from sources in the Middle East and selling them to Swiss finance houses.” The company is now run by his children. After his father died, Mohamed says that he founded Shakarchi Trading and it became a highly lucrative business, turning over 300 to 400 million Swiss francs a day. However, according to an in-depth article on the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan’s opium trade published by Counterpunch this summer:

“This Lebanese-owned company had been the subject of a long-running DEA investigation into money laundering. One of Shakarchi’s chief clients was Yasir Musullulu, who had once been nabbed attempting to deliver an 8.5-ton shipment of Afghan opium to members of the Gambino crime syndicate in New York City. A DEA memo noted that Shakarchi mingled ‘the currency of heroin, morphine base, and hashish traffickers with that of jewelers buying gold on the black market and Middle Eastern arms traffickers.’”

Shakarchi’s alleged ties to the Turkish-Bulgarian operation not only stemmed from Musullulu but from the arrest of Mirza and his ties to the Magharian brothers. The Magharians worked for Shakarchi up until 1983, after which they maintained a close relationship and continued to use the firm for the deposit and exchange of money. According to former investigative journalist Jonathan Marshall’s “The Lebanese Connection”:

“DEA investigators learned that hundreds of millions of dollars, which originated in Lebanon from the heroin and hashish trade, were smuggled into Turkey, where the Magharians’ couriers collected the cash. Some were flown directly from Istanbul to Zurich; the rest went by bus from Turkey to Bulgaria and then, with the assistance of a successor company to Kintex, by plane to Switzerland. Much of the money, the DEA learned, was coming from a Turkish partner of Musullulu in the heroin trade.”

Then, in November 1987, three suitcases containing $2.2 million in cash and addressed to the Magharians were discovered by Pan Am employees at the Los Angeles airport. According to a New York Magazine article entitled “The Money Plane,” the brothers were collecting narco-dollars and then wiring some of the money to Shakarchi’s account at Safra’s Republic Bank of New York. In what is undoubtably one of the juiciest articles the magazine has ever published, it went on to report that Shakarchi Trading was being used by “some of the world’s largest trafficking organization to launder the proceeds of their drug-trafficking activities.”

It gets better. After the police found the Magharians’ phone number on Mirza during his arrest, word on the street spread about an investigation and, unbeknownst to her at the time, Switzerland’s then Justice Minister, Elisabeth Kopp, had a big problem. Her husband, Hans Kopp, was vice president of Shakarchi Trading. In August 1988, Sharkachi privately reached out to Hans and advised him to resign from the company. He didn’t.

Then, in late August-early September, the Turkish media started publishing stories about gold and currency trafficking running from Istanbul to Shakarco AG (Sharkarchi’s initial company) which “just happened to share a Zurich address with Yasar Musullulu.” And finally, in October, Elisabeth Kopp learned first-hand about an official investigation into the Magharians and Shakarchi Trading and she notified her husband—six weeks after Shakarchi warned him—and he resigned immediately.

Kopp’s leak to her husband sparked national outrage and she was eventually forced to step down from her post as Switzerland’s first female cabinet member who, ironically, was pushing for tighter legislation on money laundering at the time (and yes, some say this was all a setup by the U.S. over the legislation but that’s another can of worms).

The Pizza Connection

Prior to the Kopps’ fall from grace, in 1985, one of the longest criminal trials ever held in U.S. federal court history against organized crime and dubbed the “Pizza Connection,” took place at the Southern District of New York’s Foley Square federal courthouse in New York City.

United States v. Badalamenti exposed a heroin-trafficking conspiracy that emerged in the aftermath of the breakup of the French Connection in the early 1970s…Badalamenti exposed organized crime’s involvement in drug trafficking and the extensive cooperation between the American Cosa Nostra and the Sicilian Mafia.” (

U.S. federal prosecutors accused twenty-two members of the mafia of taking part in a conspiracy to purchase morphine base from Turkey, process it into heroin in Sicily, and then sell it in the United States through pizza parlors and “other Mafia-run businesses.” All of the defendants were Sicilian-born and the Turkish kingpin Yasar Musullulu, mentioned earlier for having ties to the Turkish mafia and Shakarchi Trading, was reportedly the “key figure at European end of New York’s Pizza Connection heroin-smuggling ring.”

According to the FBI, approximately $1.6 billion worth of heroin was shipped to America, the proceeds of which were then laundered in the U.S. and abroad. The trial ended on March 2, 1987, with eighteen defendants found guilty, two of which were considered “top leaders of the ring’s two main factions,” Gaetano Badalamenti and Salvatore Catalano, a captain in the Bonanno crime family.

Badalamenti was a former Sicilian mafia chief from Sicily’s capital of Palermo and he headed the Sicilian Mafia Commission after it was revived in 1970. The commission consisted of nine other members including the boss of the Corleonesi family, a faction of the Corleone family and yes, Francis Ford Coppola used the name for his infamous movie The Godfather. The more you know.

The Pizza Connection investigation gave rise to the Italian “Maxi Trial” that started while the New York trial was still in session. Over 475 members of the Sicilian mafia were indicted and the trial took place in Palermo inside a reinforced, underground bunker meant to withstand missile attacks (true story).

Tommasa Buscetta, a member of Sicily’s Porta Nuova family, and his associate Salvatore Contorno both turned informant and revealed mafia secrets to Judge Giovanni Falcone who led the trial with fellow Italian judge and prosecuting magistrate, Paolo Borsellino. After the Supreme Court upheld the trial convictions in 1992, the mafia assassinated Falcone and his wife with a roadside bomb. They killed Borsellino two months later for good measure.

Operation Polar Cap (La Mina)

And then there was Operation Polar Cap, a little known operation that exposed the full extent of this money laundering and cocaine/heroin trafficking ring that spanned from New York, Los Angeles, Panama, Columbia and Uruguay to Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Italy, and Switzerland. When the Maxi Trial started in 1986, halfway around the world DEA agent Robert Mazur was busy infiltrating Pablo Escobar’s cocaine empire in what has been called “one of the biggest undercover operations of all time.” Codenamed Operation C-Chase for the Calibar Chase apartments in Tampa, Florida, Mazur pawned himself off to the cartel as a mob-connected money launderer from New Jersey after realizing that agents were doing it all wrong: They should follow the money, not the drugs.

Once he gained their trust, Mazur laundered millions of dollars for the cartel through BCCI’s branch in Tampa with the help of Rudy Armbrecht, a Colombian aircraft broker and organizer for the Medellin cartel, who acted as a liaison between Mazur and Gerardo Moncada (“Don Chepe”—not to be confused with the Cali Cartel’s “Chepe Santacruz”). Moncada was “hand-picked” by Escobar to run a large portion of his cocaine operation. C-Chase eventually led to the arrest of five BCCI officers in 1989 including Amjad Awan who “effectively served as personal banker to the Panamanian strongman, Manuel Noriega.”

“The story of my role in the sting fed magazine covers and front pages for years…But the value of that exposure paled in comparison to the amount of money pumped into the pockets of the lawyers defending the men I saw from the witness stand. Government officials later calculated that tens of millions of dollars flowed from the shareholders of BCCI—wealthy Saudi oil barons—into the defense’s coffers in an attempt to prevent the conviction of bank officers who had catered to my every money-laundering need.” Mazur

As the C-Chase operation was just getting underway, an illegal enterprise operating out of Uruguay nicknamed La Mina was running a money laundering operation that had tentacles spanning the globe. The business shipped gold-plated lead bars to front companies in the U.S. and, in return, they would wire-transfer the proceeds from cocaine sales back to Uruguay as payment for the “gold.” Drug dealers in New York also delivered cash from cocaine sales to companies fronting as jewelry stores that would ship the money in boxes marked “gold scrap,” to two Los Angeles-based companies: The Andonian Brothers and Ropex. The companies counted, bundled, and deposited the cash in LA banks where it was transferred to New York bank accounts or abroad. From New York, the money was wired to banks in Panama like Banco de Occidente, and then finally to South America.

In 1988, two things happened: An LA transport company noticed a discrepancy with the weight of a box marked “gold scrap” that had been shipped from New York, and a branch of Wells Fargo in LA noticed that an account belonging to the Andonian Brothers was depositing millions of dollars a week—in cash. The transport company contacted the feds after they discovered there was no gold scrap in the box, just cash, and Wells Fargo notified the IRS.

At the same time, the feds had started a money laundering sting out of Atlanta, Georgia that had already roped in Eduardo Martinez Romero, one of the Medellin Cartel’s chief lieutenants and financial advisors. Initially, no one realized that the cash shipped from New York marked gold scrap, the Wells Fargo deposits, or the undercover operation in Atlanta that had bagged Martinez were all related. In fact, not only was Martinez involved in La Mina and the sting operation out of Atlanta, his immediate supervisor, Gerardo Moncada a.k.a. Don Chepe, was one of the main targets during the C-Chase operation.

Side note: If you’re an avid fan of the Netflix’ series Narcos this will give you some context as to who some of these people were. Remember Judy Moncada played by actress Cristina Umaña?

“Judy Moncada”

And then remember this scene from Narcos where two guys were beaten to death inside the gates of Escobar’s self-built prison, La Catedral? One of those guys was Judy’s husband, Gerardo Moncada “Don Chepe” (he was murdered in 1992, after Operation Polar Cap).

So after agents were able to pull off a sting operation in February 1989, that led to the seizure of $4,869,000 of La Mina’s cocaine sales, the feds arrested over 35 people, seized $30 million more in narco-dollars, and La Mina came to a screeching halt. Banco de Occidente and its Panamanian branch eventually pled guilty to money laundering, an indictment against Pablo Escobar was filed in U.S. federal court, and $121 million was seized from financial accounts around the world related to the seized bank records of one of the Medellin’s top leaders, Jose Rodriguez Gacha.

On the left, Jose Rodriquez Gacha pictured in real life. On the right, Gacha depicted in Narcos.

It’s virtually impossible to believe but after the feds shut down the La Mina operation in Los Angeles, Eduardo Martinez, having no idea that the money laundering operation in Atlanta was a sting operation, contacted the feds to let them know that business was going to pick up for them. Indeed, before agents shut down that arm of the operation they handled more than $6.2 million for the cartel in a matter of weeks.

But here’s the really interesting part: Remember those suitcases that Pan Am found at the Los Angeles airport that were filled with cash and addressed to the infamous Magharian brothers? The money actually belonged to the Medellin Cartel and the intention of the shipper, a Turkish money launderer named Altun, was to send the money from LA to the Magharians in Switzerland who would then wire it from Union Bank and Credit Suisse to Banco de Occidente’s branch in Panama. According to the testimony of Los Angeles customs agent, Thomas Schenk, and a DEA agent nicknamed “Mike,” both of whom testified in the Swiss case against the Magharian brothers, Barkev Magharian was aware that Altun was working on behalf of the cartel before the suitcases were seized at the airport.

Stunningly, Shakarchi didn’t even blink an eye that he was accused of being part of the Swiss end of a massive money laundering and cocaine operation for the Medellin Cartel and he admitted to working with the LA-based La Mina firm, Ropex. According to Rachel Ehrenfeld in “Evil Money: Encounters Along the Money Trail,” “Shakarchi said he had legitimate business with Wanis Koyomejian, the owner of Ropex, on behalf of an Italian client. Following lengthy investigations in the United States and Switzerland,” Shakarchi was never charged. The Magharian brothers, on the other hand, were charged in both California and New York—on top of the charges and convictions they faced in Switzerland.

When Shakarchi was questioned, he claimed innocence and had little else to say except for, interestingly enough, this little nugget: The CIA had worked with Shakarchi on multiple occasions using a front company called Argin to exchange at least $25 million for Iranian, Turkish, Pakistani, and Afghani currency over the course of a few years. The money, of course, went to fund the Mujahideen fighting the CIA’s Saudi-backed jihad in Afghanistan.

And so, by the end of a decade nostalgically remembered for its Valley girls, neon fashion, mix tapes, and…narcotics, Noriega was ousted from power, Escobar was on the run, BCCI bank was all but finished, Shakarchi Trading was on its last breath, the Magharians were in prison, and the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan. However, justice never came for the families and communities destroyed by the crack and heroin epidemic and while the media kept the spotlight on Monica Lewinsky during the 1990s, the U.S. government continued to fund Islamic extremists and remained complicit in the arms and narco trafficking business, especially after the U.S.S.R. imploded.

End note: If you like this series so far, Whitney Webb’s series “Too Big to Fail” via MintPress News is definitely worth reading. It focuses on Jeffrey Epstein’s ties to Israel and intelligence but it also covers some of the same events in this article like the Iran-Contra scandal, the Reagan administration, and arms trafficking. Webb also discusses in detail the American mafia’s ties to the U.S. government.

Featured artwork by artist, journalist, and writer Jareth Copus (@RodionPress). You can find more of his work and donate at:

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  1. I was alive through all this, but only knew a fraction of what was going on behind the media curtains. Nice work!

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