Italian prosecutors have ordered the arrest of a Syrian citizen accused of attempting to ship to Libya and Saudi Arabia 14 tons of Captagon and three tons of hashish, which were seized in 2020 in the port of Salerno.
Judge Francesco Guerra of the Court of Salerno accused Taher Al-Kayali of international drug trafficking.
Al-Kayali, 63, is currently on the run. Italy’s Guardia di Finanza (financial police) believe he is no longer on Italian territory, but the search for the man is ongoing, with foreign authorities also involved, the Guardia di Finanza in Salerno told Il Mattino newspaper.
On July 1, 2020, the Guardia di Finanza intercepted more than 84 million Captagon tablets — weighing 14 tons and with a value of more than €1 billion ($1.2 billion) — heading from Syria to European markets, where synthetic drug production may have taken an unexpected hit from the COVID-19 lockdown.
Many have come to associate Captagon with Daesh after investigations revealed the amphetamine was used by the group’s fighters to keep them on their feet during battles.
The synthetic stimulant fenethylline, Captagon, was first produced in the 1960s to treat hyperactivity, narcolepsy and depression but was banned in most countries by the 1980s as it was deemed too addictive. It remains hugely popular in the Middle East.
Italy’s Guardia di Finanza are now certain that the Captagon seized in Salerno came from Syria and could be linked to Lebanese group Hezbollah.
The Captagon tablets were hidden in multilayered paper cylinders in order to hide the contents from scanners.
Prosecutors in Salerno confirmed that Al-Kayali had help from two Italian citizens; Alberto Eros Amato, 47, a Sicilian who now lives in Switzerland, and Giuliantonio Apicella, 51, a customs officer in the port of Salerno. Amato was sentenced to 10 years in jail last month, while Apicella’s trial is still ongoing.
Al-Kayali’s role in the trafficking was confirmed by the analysis of hundreds of phone calls and WhatsApp and Telegram messages the Syrian exchanged with Amato to instruct him on how to transfer the drugs from where they were initially stored to containers of Italian origin to avoid further customs inspections and eliminate any evidence that could point to their Syrian origin.