Trafficker of drugs did business with GMCT


Fernando Pruna is a convicted gangster who at one stage was involved in a drugs-trafficking organisation which used aircraft, ships and its own refuelling station to move drugs from Colombia to the US.

Pruna and his associates concentrated on the smuggling of cocaine and marijuana and dealt with corrupted US customs officials while bringing drugs worth millions of dollars to Florida.

Now aged 67, Pruna is the son of a prominent Havana lawyer who attended private schools in the US and worked for a number of Canadian firms before returning to Cuba in 1957.

He was elected to Cuba's House of Representatives but, following the revolution led by Fidel Castro in 1959, he was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Pruna escaped and joined the anti-Castro resistance movement, fighting in the mountains. He was captured and, aged just 24, was sentenced to death by firing squad after being accused of being a CIA agent. That sentence was subsequently changed to one of 35 years in jail.

He was released after 17 years and was allowed to move to the US. He settled in Florida in 1980 and began work as an investment banker but within a short period of time, became involved in the drugs trade. He worked along with his brother, Andreas Pruna.

Fernando Pruna began trafficking in marijuana in the Miami area but soon expanded into the more lucrative cocaine business. The business expanded rapidly, involving the movement of cocaine from Colombia via the Bahamas and Belize to Florida.

By 1985 he was doing business with Guinness Mahon Cayman Trust (GMCT) and, by way of that bank, with Guinness & Mahon bank on College Green, Dublin. His point of contact in GMCT was the late Cayman banker, John Furze, even though US customers were more usually dealt with by Mr John Collins, another early executive of GMCT.

A number of loans were made to Pruna and some of his associates in the period to 1988, totalling more than €3 million. The associates are named in the Ansbacher inspectors report as Mr Raymond G. Fitzgerald, of North Miami, Florida, and Mr Jesus Barrios and Mrs Maria Barrios, also of Florida. Mr Andreas Pruna was also a client of Mr Furze.

A US attorney's investigation memo from 1990 said it seemed from the evidence that the Pruno ring used several bank accounts at Guinness & Mahon and GMCT to deposit profits from drug-smuggling "and to facilitate the movement of profits from drugs-smuggling to other bank accounts located in countries throughout the world".

The Pruna drugs-trafficking operation grew to a substantial size and by the time it was broken up was estimated to have moved four tonnes of cocaine. It involved dropping marijuana from Cessna aircraft, the use of mother ships and fast boats from the Bahamas, and a refuelling station in Mexico for his drugs vessels.

When FBI and US customs officers swooped on Pruna's ring in 1987, following a two-year investigation, they arrested 23 people. Four US customs agents were linked to the ring. Information fed to the drugs ring by the officers allowed the traffickers to evade detection.

By the time Pruna's ring was broken, he owned a significant amount of assets, including a 140- acre ranch in Texas, aircraft and jewellery. FBI agents seized three freighters, five smaller boats, an aircraft , $54,000 in cash and other property worth $500,000. Dutch authorities seized a 120-ft boat.

Amazingly, Pruna escaped from the 1987 crackdown using forged documents and fled to Argentina. He was arrested there on local drug charges and vigorously fought attempts to extradite him back to the US.

When he was returned to the US in 1993 he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for drug-trafficking and for attempting to bribe a witness.

"I never took drugs, not even marijuana," he told a newspaper after the sentence had been delivered. "I got rich and had a opulent lifestyle. It was a dreadful mistake."

He was released in 1996 for good behaviour and was to live out the rest of his sentence under probation service supervision in Miami.