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Italian mafia link to $105m cocaine haul in Britain

LONDON -- British customs agents said Tuesday they had seized a large haul of cocaine being shipped into England with a street value of 70 million pounds ($105 million) following a tip from Italian police trying to crack down on Mafia-drug running operations.

The 120-pound (265 kg) haul of cocaine represented a successful outcome to a joint international surveillance operation involving Italian, British and Columbian drug enforcement agencies.

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British officials said they had arrested three men. Italian anti- Mafia investigators said they arrested two Sicilians over the Christmas weekend; Salvino Vaccaro, 47, a well-known owner of a string of Palermo discos, and Gerlando Micciche, 59, a businessman.

Italian police said Vaccaro, who discos include the 'Speakeasy,' 'Parechoc' and 'Shazam,' also has indulged in a minor movie career, playing small roles in several films, including that of a police informer in 'The Pizza Connection,' a film based on the smashing of the a 1980s drug ring operating between New York and Italy.

British customs agents moved in when the MV Maipo arrived at the port of Felixstowe on the southern English coast last week. The vessel had traveled from Colombia via Italy to Britain.

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'We were acting on information from the anti-Mafia squad in Italy,' the customs spokesman said.

'We were expecting it (the drug haul) and waited for the containers to be unloaded. This was a very large haul and quite a coup.'

The drugs were found inside a container that had been 'adapted' in a bid to conceal the cocaine, the spokesman said.

Two of the three Britons arrested following the seizure face drug smuggling charges and appeared in court Monday. They were remanded in custody for further hearings next week. The third man was released on police bail.

Italian officials said the international drug probe was launched several months ago by Sicilian investigators and then handed on to the anti-Mafia squad and Interpol.

Police said the ship, apparently loaded with drugs supplied by the Colombian Medellin cartel for the Sicilian Mafia, began its voyage from Columbia two months ago and was trailed along its route by Interpol agents.

Officials said that disco-owner Vaccaro was due to be questioned Tuesday in Palermo by police.

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