Major Drug Bust in Spain and Italy

Major Drug Bust in Spain and Italy

Last week the Mossos d’Esquadra (the Catalonia police force) dismantled a major Italian hashish trafficking network with tentacles in Catalonia. They acted in a joint operation with the Guarda di Finanza of Italy and in coordination with Europol in what has so far been the largest international criminal investigation in the history of the Catalan police force.

In total, the operation was carried out simultaneously in several locations in northern Italy and in Catalonia. It resulted in 78 arrests and the seizure of more than 30 tonnes of hashish.

A fake kidnapping, unrelated to the investigation, led to the first contact between the Mossos d’Esquadra and the Guardia di Finanza in January 2022. By then, according to Giorgio Targa, lieutenant of the Guardia di Finanza’s Anti-Drug Task Force, the Italian authorities had located a fur shop, among many other commercial premises in Milan’s Chinatown neighbourhood, run by Chinese nationals who were in charge of receiving large amounts of money from drug trafficking networks.

The Italian police force placed micro-cameras in the establishment and discovered that entrepreneurs with legal steel and plastic production businesses were using the establishment to defraud taxes.

Joint operation

Through the Italian consular attaché in Barcelona of the Central Directorate of Anti-Drug Services, the Guardia di Finanza of Milan recalled that the Mossos in 2020, had identified a citizen in Badalona in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, carrying €300,000 in cash in a backpack.

Although the Catalan police brought the case to court, the judge saw no evidence of criminality and the case was shelved. The Guardia di Finanza confirmed that this subject was part of a criminal organisation based in Milan specialising in the trafficking of hashish.

From that moment on, the Catalan police and the Italian authorities exchanged information and found out that the criminal organisation was made up of three branches, each of them in charge of a different task. The first was made up of Italians based in Catalonia, including the main leaders of the organisation, who managed and supervised the shipments of drugs, mostly hashish, and the collection of money.

“We located seven leaders in Catalonia, who had a high standard of living but no known work activity,” explained Antoni Salleras, chief inspector of the Central Organised Crime Area of the Criminal Investigation Division (DIC) of the Mossos d’Esquadra.

The second group, also based in Catalonia, was made up of a network of Moroccan nationals who were in charge of obtaining the hashish in Morocco and transporting it to Catalonia hidden inside tractors. The third group, made up of Spaniards, was in charge of collecting the drugs and transporting them to Italy in large trucks.

To pay for the large quantities of drugs – 400 kilos of hashish were seized in a single lorry – the criminal organisation used the Hawala method. “This is the first time that the operation of this system, also known as Fei Chien, has been seen “, confirmed José A. Merino, deputy chief inspector of the Central Area of Economic Crimes of the Criminal Investigation Division (DIC) of the Mossos d’Esquadra.

The members of the Italian criminal organisation had to pay for the drugs once they arrived in Italy through the furrier’s shop and other premises where they delivered huge amounts of money, which were then compensated in commercial establishments in Badalona, mainly clothing shops and restaurants, where the drug traffickers would go with a code to extract them.

In the six months that the investigation lasted, Guardia di Finanza agents counted, thanks to the furrier’s micro cameras, €26 million coming from the Catalan drug trade.

In the operation, carried out simultaneously in Italy and Spain, 105 entries and searches were carried out (30 in Catalonia and 73 in Italy) and 78 arrests were made (20 in Catalonia and 58 in Italy).

In the searches carried out in Spain, the Catalan police seized more than €716,000 in cash and €80,000 in cryptocurrencies, six high-end vehicles, three properties and several high-end watches.

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Written by

Kevin Fraser Park

Kevin was born in Scotland and worked in marketing, running his own businesses in UK, Italy and, for the last 8 years, here in Spain. He moved to the Costa del Sol in 2016 working initially in real estate. He has a passion for literature and particularly the English language which is how he got into writing.