European Police Say 'Major' Cocaine Smuggling Ring Busted

(MENAFN- The Peninsula) AFP

Madrid: European Police forces have arrested around 40 people in a years-long operation to bust a major drug smuggling ring, leading to the seizure of eight tonnes of cocaine, Europol said Thursday.

The cartel, whose leaders were based in Turkey and Dubai, had been dealt a major blow after a final set of arrests Wednesday, the Hague-based police coordination agency said.
The Network had "the capacity to transport tonnes and tonnes of cocaine all over the world", Oscar Esteban Remacha, head of the anti-drug trafficking unit at Spain's Guardia Civil, said at a press conference in Madrid.

According to Europol, the final phase of the operation began with the August 2023 discovery by the Guardia Civil of 700 kilos (1,540 pounds) of cocaine in a boat off the Canary Islands, which was crewed by Croat and Italian citizens.

Spain is a main entry point for drugs into Europe given its ties with Latin America and its proximity to Morocco.

After exchanging their findings with other police forces, investigators found links with previous seizures, leading to the identification of the ring's leaders.

Many members of the network were from countries in the Balkans, Europol said.

In all, some 40 people were arrested in six countries, including two top Croat members of the network, who were arrested in Istanbul late last year.

The last four arrests were made Wednesday in Spain, Europol said.

Heavily armed Guardia Civil officers arrested one of the suspects, 40, during a dawn raid Wednesday at his home in Marbella, the Mediterranean seaside resort, according to an AFP journalist who witnessed the operation.

"This is one of the biggest operations against the Balkan cartels to date," a Croat police officer, Tomislav Stambuk, said at the press conference.

"Serious assessments are that the Balkan cartel is responsible for the supply of... more than half of cocaine" in Europe, Stambuk said.

Much of the network's assets, with a total value of several tens of millions of euros, had been seized or frozen, Europol added.

It said the smugglers shipped the cocaine from South America to logistical hubs in west Africa and the Canary Islands.

It was then sent on to centres in Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Italy and Spain for distribution across Europe.

The bust comes at a time when cocaine production worldwide is "skyrocketing", the head of Europol's narcotics department Robert Fay said.

Cocaine seizures at European ports have reached record levels, he said, calling the rise in drug-related violence across the block "worrying".

"We see bombings, killings, professional assassinations, shootings happening almost every day in the European Union," Fay said.


The Peninsula

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