Wednesday, September 28

Patriarch Manuel Charlín: pioneer, violent and incombustible drug trafficker




Manuel Charlin Gama, 89, died on New Year’s Eve after a domestic fall from which he could not recover. It was in the villa in Vilanova de Arousa (Pontevedra) where he had lived since his last release from prison. The patriarch of the ‘charlines’, one of the historical Galician drug traffickers, leaves to his death a clan educated in the business and you have justice that had not yet paid off.

Sparse in words, and surely the most violent of the Galician drug traffickers, Manolo Charlín was, together with his brother José Luis, a piece key in the leap that some tobacco smugglers gave to drug trafficking in the eighties. First, the Moroccan hashish; then, to Colombian cocaine, according to journalist Benito Leiro in ‘A quiet place’, an essential book to understand the reconversion of illicit businesses.

The profits from drug trafficking were substantially higher, and the drug easier to hide than tobacco.

Nicknamed ‘the Old Man’ by some, and ‘the Godfather’ by others, Manolo Charlín became popular in the early 1990’s with Operation Nécora, a spectacular operation supervised by the then young judge Baltasar Garzón –who burst into the Baión pazo in Laureano Oubiña by helicopter. That macrooperative left a bittersweet taste. Although the big bosses came out of the process quite well – absolved or with minimal penalties -, It was an unprecedented wake-up call to the drug traffickers that they had gone from the Winston ‘punting’ to the bales. Charlin, accused by the Prosecutor’s Office of introducing thousands of kilos of cocaine, was acquitted. After four years in prison, he was released. Although the patriarch had come to the fore with Operation Nécora, by then he had a long track record and already knew what it was like to be behind bars. Owner of a seafood company, it had been a long time since Vicente Otero, alias ‘Terito’, had gone from black market to tobacco.

His first major conviction, however, would come years later. In 1999 the National Court imposed twenty years in prison for a stash of 600 kilos of cocaine transported a decade earlier from Colombia to Galicia. A collaborator of the clan, who ‘sang’ before Garzón, would end up being assassinated by two Colombian hitmen, although he could never connect Charlín with that settling of accounts. And while the patriarch served the sentence of the stash of 600 kilos, they fell another 13 years in prison for a macro operation, for money laundering from drug trafficking, in which a dozen ‘charlines’ were implicated. After two decades, in July 2010 the veteran patriarch, who was already 78 years old, was released from prison.

A pending case

The ‘Old Man’ has died, but his clan remains. His six children add up to several convictions for drug trafficking and / or money laundering. And above all, his daughter Josefa, who took the reins of the business family during the years in which the father was in jail.

The almost ninety-year-old Galician narco was fireproof: he still had pending accounts to settle with justice. In 2018, he spent a few months in prison for a laundering case that is still pending, in which the prosecutor asked for eight years in prison for the kingpin. The Charlins accumulated an enormous patrimony, supposedly thanks to drug trafficking. However, according to Nacho Carretero in ‘Fariña’, when the patriarch was asked at the Nécora trial, it did not seem like much: «What if I have farms? Man, Your Honor, realize that, in Galicia, we call 20 square meters a farm».

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