By David Amoruso for Gangsters Inc.
Raffaele Imperiale’s criminal empire has officially crumbled. The international Camorra boss sat atop the European drug underworld, forming a close partnership with organizations in Ireland and the Netherlands and deemed himself safe in the desert city of Dubai. He was wrong. On Friday, authorities put him on a plane to Italy where he faces serious charges.
47-year-old Imperiale was arrested in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, in August of 2021. He had been living a life of luxury there, spending $500,000 a month and staying at expensive villas and $1,500-a-night hotel rooms. All the while, he was listed as one of Italy’s most wanted criminals.
Authorities allege that he is a leading member of the Camorra and supplied the Amato-Pagano and Di Lauro Clans in the infamous Scampia neighborhood in Naples, Italy. The drug business was a natural fit for Imperiale. He came to the Netherlands in the 1990s and was involved in several “coffeeshops”, places where people could legally buy marijuana and hashish. Eventually, he began trafficking cocaine. The pipeline made Imperiale millions and established him as one of the premier drug bosses in Europe.
Van Gogh heist
He invested a portion of his drug money in two paintings of Van Gogh, which were stolen from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and used them as collateral during negotiations with South American drug cartels.
These paintings were valued at over $100 million and came in handy as a valuable commodity which could easily be moved from one place to the next. He eventually hid them in a house in Castellammare di Stabia near Naples, where they were subsequently found by authorities in 2016.
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Imperiale is alleged to have given the paintings up to Italian authorities in exchange for a lower prison sentence. Prosecutors initially recommended Imperiale to be sentenced to 20 years in prison for drug trafficking, but he managed to negotiate an 8-year reduction.
Partnering with the Irish and Moroccan-Dutch mobs
He worked closely with the Kinahan Clan from Dublin, Ireland, attending the 2017 wedding of mob boss Daniel Kinahan at the luxurious Burj al Arab 7-star hotel, and formed a close partnership with Dutch crime bosses Ridouan Taghi and Richard Eduardo Riquelme Vega. The three formed an effective drug cartel which controlled a third of the cocaine trade in Europe. The DEA considers the group among the top 50 of the world's drug cartels.
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Of these men, only Kinahan remains a free man. He still lives in Dubai where he is involved in promoting boxing and fights. Riquelme Vega and Taghi are both looking at long prison sentences for drug trafficking and several murders in the Netherlands. Authorities had managed to crack their encrypted telephones and read their text messages in which they ordered gangland rivals killed.
Now Imperiale, too, will spend his foreseeable future locked up in a cell. Far away from his life of luxury in the sun.
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