Drug Baron Manuel Charlín, Europe's First Cocaine Cowboy Passed Away
Manuel Charlín died on New Year's Eve after enjoying his last drink in his favorite local bar.
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The most feared Spanish drug lord has passed away symbolically on the last day of 2021. Despite his advanced age and the ongoing pandemic, Manuel Charlín Gama did not succumb to the coronavirus. At the age of 89, shortly before his death, he got a chance to visit his favorite bar on his way back home. In the luxury villa, where the family clan resided for a big part of his life, he fell and died of a heart attack.
Manuel Charlín Gama was no longer the dreaded boss of the underworld as he used to be a few decades ago, but even shortly before his 90th birthday, he held the reins of the family clan firmly in his hands.
The Spanish government suspected him of embezzling millions of euros, and he was facing charges of murdering a traitor from his ranks. He became famous in the Iberian Peninsula and throughout Europe as head of a smuggling operation that opened the gates to the old continent for Colombian cocaine in the 80s.
From fishing boats to smuggling in no time
Manuel Charlín Gama was born in 1932 in the Spanish region of Galicia, which later proved to be a strategic location for the development of smuggling with Portugal, North Africa, and especially South America.
Galicia is known for its cattle breeding, agriculture, and fishing. It was the seafood that fed the Charlín family.
While his father worked on a fishing boat and his mother sold at the market, the young Manuel also had a traditional job helping out at sea. However, it didn't take long for him to notice that tobacco smugglers were much better off at sea than fishermen, according to Faro de Vigo.
Manuel began to build his own business through his network from Portugal, which he had built working on ships. He smuggled coffee, alcohol, copper, and tobacco in large quantities between Spain, Portugal, and Morocco.
"They started bringing copper and penicillin, but then tobacco came," explains Carmen Avendaño of the Érguete-Integración Foundation, an association of mothers fighting the tragic consequences of smuggling and, in particular, cocaine and heroin use.
In those days, tobacco smuggling was not as severely monitored as it is now. One could potentially get in trouble with the tax office, at best. That was worth the risk for Charlín and his rapidly growing wealth of illegal income.
Pablo Escobar's mentality as he was switching between tobacco and hashish
Like Pablo Escobar at the turn of the 80s and 90s in faraway Colombia, the future Spanish drug lord Manuel Charlín knew that he would only be able to maintain his growing empire if he shared the money.
Therefore, he built a large factory in Galicia, took care of his loved ones, and employed dozens, if not hundreds, of people from the surrounding area. Thanks to that, he built a reputation as a powerful and generous man, writes Faro de Vigo.
There was a lot to give away from, especially after the death of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. The economy opened up, the strict regime loosened, and people were looking for ways to entertain themselves. Charlín saw that the ever-present tobacco gently went to the background and slowly became replaced with the demand for hashish from Morocco. He didn't hesitate for too long and began smuggling drugs.
As an experienced smuggler, he knew that he could smuggle hash on ships almost legally until the laws got tightened. Although a large part of the society refused drugs, Charlín saw that whoever was able to distribute hashish among young people at the beginning of the euphoria that came with the arrival of democracy would drown in wealth, says El Mundo.
He had a businessman killed in a freezer
Manuel Charlín was far from a good man. The testimonies of close co-workers or business partners have always described him as a highly aggressive, explosive, and violent man who didn't hesitate to tackle problems forcefully.
He paid for it in the early 80s when he kidnapped the businessman Celestino Suances, who allegedly owed him money for smuggled cigarettes at the time. Charlín planned to do end Suances quickly, so he had him abducted at the restaurant's door, trapped in a warehouse, and locked in the freezer box of one of his vans.
The door of the vehicle wasn't fully closed, though. Suances had managed to escape and sent Charlín to prison. Paradoxically, the judge's verdict caused Charlín to come across a group of Colombian smugglers from the local cartels in the Modelo prison in Barcelona. This sparked an idea in his head. The transition from tobacco to hashish went smoothly, so now was the time to open the door to Europe for Colombian cocaine, says Diario de Pontevedra.
From tobacco king to a cocaine cowboy
At the turn of the 80s and 90s, Manuel Charlín became probably the most prominent drug smuggler in all of Spain, if not the whole of Europe. In the initial stages, he practically ensured the entry of cocaine from Colombia into the old continent all by himself (and his family).
He realized that since smuggling ceased to be a tax fraud and became a severe crime in 1982, the family clan was in increasing danger. However, the money made from cocaine would blind any narco baron at that time.
Charlín even got into arguments with his family over cocaine because the clan split into two groups, according to El Confidencial.
One group was into the new income from smuggling hard drugs, but the other part of the clan refused to get involved with it. This is one of the reasons why the transformation of Charlín into a cocaine cowboy in the early 90s is described as the beginning of an end to the big influence and power of the family.
When cocaine destroyed the family clan
Although Charlín eventually lived to a respectable age of 89, since the early 90s, he watched the empire fall apart before his eyes. In Spain, a huge anti-drug operation, Operación Nécora, was launched in 1990, resulting in at least 54 arrests for smuggling and drug trafficking at various levels, according to La Voz de Galicia.
It became clear that Charlín had included virtually his entire family and loved ones in his drug operation, so the family clan earned the name Los Charlines.
Similar to the South American cartels, Manuel Charlín wanted to keep power exclusively in the family, so the influence was fully concentrated in the family villa between his wife, sons, and daughters. People from the outside rarely penetrated the inner circle.
Operación Nécora didn't take it easy on the man. He got arrested by the police in 1990, while Judge Baltasar Garzón, along with law enforcement, launched an intensive offensive against the entire clan. Charlín was behind bars until 1994, but when he was released, betrayal came from within.
A shot in the head from a Colombian commando
The same year, the smuggler Manuel Baúlo, ended up with a bullet in his head. He was assassinated in his own house by the Colombian commando for his cooperation with the police and revealed everything he knew about Charlín's activities.
He paid for it with his death but confirmed to police that Charlín was responsible for the supply of 600 kilograms of cocaine they found near the city of A Coruña, according to
Meanwhile, a German caravan driver near Madrid accused Charlín of ordering a supply of 500 kilos of cocaine to be distributed in the capital. So the whole smuggling system suddenly began to fall apart.
Punished with 104 years behind bars
Since 1995, Charlín has been in a strictly guarded prison for almost 15 years. Although he was never officially convicted of ordering the murder of his co-worker, the investigation confirmed that he was the engineer of smuggling hundreds of kilograms of drugs and laundering money, writes The Guardian.
The court sentenced him, his wife, and the children to 104 years in prison. The Supreme Court eased the decision after three years, and Charlín was released from prison at 78.
Sex with a mentally handicapped minor
The family clan managed to hide millions of euros from the police in foreign accounts, so even after two decades in prison, Charlín was outstandingly wealthy.
Only a year after his release, he was arrested again by police. At 79, he manipulated a 17-year-old minor girl with a mental disability who had escaped from a youth center. He invited her to one of his apartments and had sexual intercourse with her for two days, according to La Voz de Galicia.
After the meeting with Charlín, the girl ran to the police station, where she disorientedly explained what had happened and described a man whose appearance matched the old drug lord.
Shots and death on New Year's Eve
Los Charlines ran into police multiple times in the recent years, but Manuel Charlín didn't make a return to prison anymore.
At the moment, Spanish police continue the investigation on the extent to which the clan is still involved in drug smuggling into the old continent. Allegations of drug smuggling and money laundering are aimed at the children and even two granddaughters, ABC reports.
"Now they are no longer dedicated to drug trafficking, what they do is launder money from their own businesses, but also from other companies," Carmen Avendaño from the Érguete-Integración Foundation told El Mundo addressing today's activities of the clan.
The old man used to spend his days in a villa in the Galician village of Vilanova de Arousa, where the clan had lived for decades. He often appeared in local restaurants and bars. Despite his advanced age of 89, he liked to enjoy a drink in the company of old acquaintances. This may have become fatal for him on December 31st, 2021.
Manuel Charlín chose to celebrate the arrival of the New Year at a bar in the village. After he left home, he fell and had a heart attack. Even the ambulance workers could no longer help him. And that was the unusual end to one of the most violent and bloody eras in the history of the Spanish underworld.
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