NBI busts drug ring in 3 condos
National Bureau of Investigation agents arrested six people believed to have links with Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel in raids on three luxury properties in Taguig and Makati cities early Wednesday, bolstering suspicions that the Latin drug trade had reached the Philippines through foreign and local connections.
The agents also seized “shabu” (methamphetamine hydrochloride), cocaine and ecstasy pills worth P100 million in the raids on The Luxe Residences and One Serendra in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, and on Gramercy Residence in Makati City.
Canadian Barry Espadilla and Filipino Tristan Olazo were arrested in the raid on The Luxe Residences, while Canadian Tara Leanne Hadden-White was arrested in the raid on One Serendra.
Canadian James Riach, Filipino Gibson Arca and Iranian-Canadian Ali Shirazi were arrested in the raid on Gramercy Residence.
The suspects’ arrest in luxury residential properties with their own security showed an advance in drug traders’ tactics to conceal their operations, the authorities said.
Augusto Eric Isidoro, executive director of the NBI Reaction, Arrest and Interdiction Division, said the raiding teams had difficulty entering the properties, as they had to ask for permission to enter from the building administrators despite carrying search and arrest warrants.
Isidoro said the suspects had evaded detection by renting apartments in the three posh properties. Such places are not easily penetrable to authorities, he said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said NBI Director Medardo de Lemos informed her about the raid after 3 a.m.
She said investigators were looking into the suspects’ links with the Sinaloa drug cartel, Mexico’s biggest and deadliest drug network.
The NBI, she said, could not immediately determine whether the suspects were linked to Sinaloa, but an informant claimed that the seized drugs came from Mexico.
Drugs from the Sinaloa cartel were seized by police in a raid on a game fowl ranch in Batangas province on Christmas Day.
According to initial findings, De Lima said, the suspects had been operating in the Philippines for about seven months.
An informant tipped off the NBI about the suspects’ operations, leading to a two-month surveillance and the raids early on Wednesday.
Isidoro said the suspects sold drugs to prominent users in exclusive clubs and casinos like Club Haze in Bonifacio Global City and Republiq Club in Resorts World in Pasay City.
They also threw exclusive cocktail parties at Gramercy, where nitrous oxide or laughing gas was also seized, Isidoro said.
He said the suspects imported the substances from Mexico and Colombia, smuggling them into the country, recooking and repackaging them.
A kilo of cocaine could be increased to 3 or 4 kg after adding a substance called phenamine, Isidoro said.
The suspects learned to do it through the Internet, he said.
He said the suspects had admitted that some of the substances were unadulterated ecstasy, which they made into capsules with artificial flavors, such as strawberry and mango.
Espadilla and Riach belong to the Independent Soldier gang in Canada where they face murder, weapons and drug charges, Isidoro said.
“They have been convicted of various crimes in Canada,” De Lima said. “I think this information was obtained by the NBI from the Interpol.”
De Lima said she was alarmed that the Canadians, who had been convicted of crimes in their country, managed to enter the Philippines and operate a drug ring in Manila.
She said the government would concentrate on the case and try to neutralize the Sinaloa syndicate’s operations here.
The Bureau of Immigration may have to tighten the screening of arriving foreigners, with the justice department working with the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and other offices to bust the syndicate’s foreign and local tentacles here, she said.
Following the raids in Taguig, Mayor Lani Cayetano urged building managers in Bonifacio Global City to be more strict with tenants and security.
Cayetano said property owners and managers should review their procedures and tighten their monitoring for illegal activities within their premises.—With reports from Jerome Aning and Jaymee T. Gamil
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