Spain leads crackdown on Balkan cartel behind cocaine pipeline to Europe

Spain leads crackdown on Balkan cartel behind cocaine pipeline to Europe

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An operation involving eight countries, including Spain, has brought down a Balkan drug cartel flooding Europe with cocaine.

A series of strikes carried out in the past year in the framework of an Operational Taskforce between Spain, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United States and Colombia, were coordinated by Europol’s European Serious Organised Crime Centre.

The criminal cartel had branches active in several European countries and was composed mainly of criminals from Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia.

An Operational Taskforce was established by Europol in July 2020 to bring together all the involved countries to coordinate a joint strategy to bring down the whole network. Since then, Europol has been provided with continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators.

As a result, 61 members have been charged, out of which 23 have been arrested, 13 in Spain and 10 in Slovenia and 2.6 tons of cocaine was seized.

Spanish investigators developed reliable intelligence that this cartel was preparing a major cocaine importation from South America into Europe in spring of this year.

Special surveillance measures were put in place as the criminals moved back and forth between Spain and South America to finalise the details of the cocaine importation, totalling over 1.25 tonnes.

The investigation gathered pace in March of this year when the leaders of this cartel travelled to Spain to prepare for the arrival of the cocaine shipment. These two individuals – considered as High-Value Targets by Europol, had until then avoided attending meetings in person in order to evade law enforcement.

“This was too good of an opportunity for law enforcement to miss: in the early hours of March 10, 2021, officers from the Spanish National Police carried out simultaneous raids in the cities of Tarragona, Barcelona, Gerona and Valencia, arresting thirteen individuals, including the two kingpins and a police officer who collaborated with the criminal organisation,” Europol said on September 27.

“The Spanish investigators also dismantled the cartel’s alternative revenue streams, such as the production and trafficking of marijuana and the sale of luxury vehicles,” it added.

In a follow-up action in May 2021 some 48 other members of the organised criminal group were charged in Slovenia by the National Police for their involvement in the distribution of the cocaine and marijuana throughout Europe. A total of 10 of these suspects are now under arrest.

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Deirdre Tynan

Deirdre Tynan is an award-winning journalist who enjoys bringing the best in news reporting to Spain’s largest English-language newspaper, Euro Weekly News. She has previously worked at The Mirror, Ireland on Sunday and for news agencies, media outlets and international organisations in America, Europe and Asia. A huge fan of British politics and newspapers, Deirdre is equally fascinated by the political scene in Madrid and Sevilla. She moved to Spain in 2018 and is based in Jaen.