Europe’s largest-ever cocaine laboratory discovered in Pontevedra, Galicia

Man On Sick Leave Ran Coke Lab in Pontevedra, Galicia

Image of cocaine laboratory discovered in Pontrevefra, Galicia. Credit: Policia Nacional

The largest cocaine laboratory ever discovered in Europe, located in Pontevedra, Galicia, was busted by police officers from three countries.

As reported in a statement from the National Police this Thursday, April 13, the force helped to bust the largest clandestine cocaine paste processing laboratory in Europe. It had the capacity to produce 200 kilograms per day. This was achieved by a joint operation with the Portuguese Polícia Judiciária and the Colombian Anti-Narcotics Directorate (DIRAN).

The macro-laboratory – located in the province of Pontevedra – was in full operation 24 hours a day. Its ‘cooks’ – distributed in different shifts – were in charge of transforming the cocaine base paste into cocaine hydrochloride ready for consumption.

This criminal organisation had a high level of sophistication and its members, who had a clear division of roles. It employed strong security measures such as the use of nicknames, the use of shuttle vehicles, the use of disguises of transporters, and the subjection of their communications to a strict security protocol.

A total of 18 suspects were detained in Galicia (11), the Basque Country (1), Madrid (4), and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (2), with the judicial authority ordering all of them to be sent to prison.

As a result of 14 searches carried out, the police officers seized 1,300 kilos of cocaine base paste which is the largest seizure to date outside the production areas, as reported by

Another 151 kilos of cocaine hydrochloride, and more than 23,000 litres of precursors. and other chemicals were confiscated. 17 properties were blocked – with an approximate value of €1,700,000 – plus 37 financial products, pending the quantification of their value.

The investigation began in October 2022 when the police learned of the existence of a criminal organisation based in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Their first investigations confirmed that it had a powerful infrastructure that allowed them to introduce large amounts of drugs into Spain.

Some of that gang’s members had already been the subject of previous police investigations. They displayed a high standard of living as well as being known to maintain links with Colombian citizens who acted as suppliers.

A large number of movements between Las Palmas and the mainland – specifically between Madrid and Pontevedra – were observed through surveillance. The gang was also found to have a villa in the Madrid town of Colmenar Viejo which was used for the storage of a large quantity of chemical products and other tools.

This was the first place chosen to ‘cool’ the precursor chemicals, i.e. to store the substances for a prudent period of time in order to detect whether there was any surveillance of them and to evade possible police action.

The network also used several logistics companies to transport the chemicals while pretending to have a legal activity. A businessman from the Basque Country was in charge of these arrangements, who, thanks to his contacts, acted as a ‘procurer’ on the mainland for the investigated Canary Islanders.

One of these trips allowed the police to locate an industrial warehouse in a town in Pontevedra. This facility was initially used as a logistics centre to supply the macro-laboratory and, subsequently, to ‘cool’ the materials before transferring them to the laboratory.

The members of the criminal organisation had a high degree of sophistication and a clear distribution of functions. On the one hand, the Colombians provided the human resources in the form of ‘cooks’ or laboratory chemists.

Technical knowledge was provided by the Mexicans, to ensure the correct extraction of the coca base, which was transported hidden in large stone crushing machines. They were also in charge of supervising that the coca base from Colombia was properly processed.

Finally, the Spanish side was in charge of the bulk of the operation. They managed the transportation of the substance from its origin in Colombia until its arrival in Pontevedra. The Spaniards took care of the corresponding treatment in the laboratory, whose installation they were also in charge of along with the subsequent distribution of the final product throughout the national territory.

Last October, the investigators noticed an exponential increase in the organisation’s activities. Once again – and after a prudent period of time – they began to move the chemicals, machinery and tools necessary for the establishment of the laboratory.

This was carried out under strong and strict security measures, including the use of shuttle vehicles and the setting up of observation points to detect possible police presence.

At this point, the police officers were able to learn the exact location of what turned out to be the largest cocaine hydrochloride processing laboratory dismantled in Europe to date.

It was hidden inside a large villa, in a municipality in Pontevedra, far from other houses and surrounded by a large plot of land. A few weeks later, the officers detected the presence of three men of South American origin who had been introduced under heavy security measures.

At the same time, the investigators learned that the network intended to import a large stone-crushing machine from Colombia via the port of Leixoes in Porto, Portugal. To do so, they turned to a Basque businessman who created an ad hoc company with the aim of ensuring the entry of the narcotic substance hidden inside two mechanical cylinders that made up the stone crusher. The Spanish bosses paid a total of €2 million for this lab to be set up.

In order to finance the high costs of their activities, the members of the so-called ‘office’ that the international criminal organisation had in Spain were in charge of making cash deliveries. To do so, they used different locations and people.

The dismantled laboratory was on an unprecedented scale in Europe. It had advanced air extraction systems and sophisticated equipment for cooling and heating substances. All of this was perfectly compartmentalised in various areas in order to carry out the processing, separation, drying, and packaging of the cocaine.

Their operation has revealed a new trend in cocaine trafficking, in which the narcotic substance is exported without having undergone the chemical process, which is carried out in clandestine laboratories installed in the country of destination.

This was an attempt by criminal organisations to reduce their losses in the face of possible police seizures. In addition to preventing a large quantity of drugs from reaching the market, this operation has prevented environmental pollution with devastating effects.

It was found that more than 27 tonnes of waste liquid and solid chemicals would have been dumped into the waters of a nearby river.

Written by

Chris King

Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at