The biggest Mafia drugs trial in recent history resulted from the discovery of a consignment that went awry— 600,000 dollars worth of morphine base in an unclaimed suitcase on a carousel at Sicily airport in 1979.

The implications, as well as the sums involved, can be far bigger, as a recent Italian court case showed. The seedy underworld of drug trafficking can interlock not only with arms dealing but also with conventional business and even with governments.

Investigating Judge Palermo uncovered a bewildering story centred around trafficker Henri Arsan. Arsan spent most of the Seventies dealing in drugs and arms, forming part of 'the French Connection’ in Marseilles but based mainly in Berlin. He arranged the importation of 700 kilos of morphine base every two months into Italy, where they were processed into heroin in Sicilian laboratories.

One way Arsan worked was to trade arms for the drugs he wanted, acting as a link in a chain which replenished the battlefields of the Middle East — the Judge uncovered a particular link with the Syrian Intelligence service, including President Assad’s brother. But Arsan was not above dealing with governments more openly. He once acted as intermediary between Polish and South Yemeni leaders — the Poles wanted to sell 56 tonnes of arms without the Russians knowing about the operation.

Roger Lewis - 1984

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