Drug Trafficker Turned Informant Offers Up Private Island in Hopes of Leniency

A former drug smuggler and Van Gogh lover who evaded capture for over five years has handed over the deed to his private island off the coast of Dubai to Italian authorities to try and sway them to give him a lighter sentence for his many crimes.

An international drug trafficker with possible business ties to a reputed “super cartel” as well as the Italian mafia has handed over the ownership rights to his multi-million dollar private island in an attempt to try and reduce his sentence. 

Known drug kingpin Raffaele Imperiale made headlines in 2016 when police raided one of his homes in Naples and found two original Vincent Van Gogh paintings estimated to be worth more than $58 million each. The paintings had reportedly been stolen in a heist at the Vincent Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam in 2002. He spent five years on the run before being arrested in Dubai in 2021 and extradited to Italy in 2022. 

Imperiale is now staring down the barrow of a lengthy prison sentence after evading arrest in Dubai for several years. He faces over 14 years prison time if convicted, but Imperiale has been cooperating with authorities by giving them information on international crime syndicates he brushed shoulders with during his heyday. According to the Guardian he also offered prosecutors something much bigger: his man-made private island off the coast of Dubai. 

The island called “Taiwan,” not to be confused with the East Asian country, is reported to be worth anywhere from $60 to $80 million. Imperiale is believed to have spent the majority of his time on the run at this island, and on Monday he signed it over to Italian prosecutors.

“It is clear that Imperiale wants sentence reductions,” said the prosecutor, Maurizio De Marco to the Guardian. “We are assessing the validity of his statements, but there seem to be no doubts about their genuineness.”

Imperiale appeared in Italian court Monday alongside 20 other defendants to face charges related to the enormous criminal empire he was allegedly at the helm of. Italian authorities have also alleged Imperiale has close ties to the Camorra mafia family as well as an international “super cartel” that trafficked drugs from South America through five or more European countries including Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates, according to Europol. The super cartel controlled around ⅓ of the cocaine trade in Europe before authorities arrested 49 suspects believed to be associated with the group in 2022. The super cartel was allegedly led by Imperiale and:

  • Ridouan Taghi, formerly the most wanted criminal of the Netherlands
  • Daniel Kinahan, believed to be the boss of an Irish criminal group
  • Bosnian drug trafficker Edin Gačanin.

Authorities have alleged that Imperiale helped run one of the 50 largest drug trafficking operations in the world and had a virtual monopoly secured over nearly all the cocaine produced in Peru. The Guardian said Imperiale got his start running a cannabis cafe in Amsterdam that he inherited from his late brother.

Imperiale led a tale worthy of another Godfather movie during his time as a criminal. He was rumored to have spent over $400,000 every single month while he was on the run in Dubai, according to the Guardian. When Italian authorities searched one of his homes in March, they found over 80 firearms and other weapons, including a grenade and three Kalashnikov rifles, hidden underneath Imperiale’s garage floor. He also had over 5,000 rounds of ammunition, according to Reuters.

Additionally, controversy was stirred up in Italy shortly after Imperiale’s extradition. According to Sunday World, two Italian judicial officers were caught disposing of documents related to the Imperiale case during the course of their job duties. A hidden camera caught the employee putting certain documents into a bin under her desk.

“[They] systematically destroyed, suppressed and concealed, making them untraceable, the following true public documents, represented by documents and / or entire files relating to criminal proceedings pending at the Judicial Offices of the District of the Court of Appeal of Naples,” said officials with the Guardia di Finanza to Sunday World

The accused judicial workers told authorities they were trying to lighten their own workload by disposing of the documents, many of which were discovered in the garbage by police who made photocopies of everything. 

No word had yet been released at the time this article was written on whether or not Imperiale’s island offering will have any definitive effect on his sentencing. 

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