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Police smash European cocaine ‘super cartel,’ arrest 49 in international sting

Europol headquarters in The Hague
Europol, the European Union’s crime agency, says 49 suspects have been arrested during an international investigation into drug-trafficking.
(Peter Dejong / Associated Press)
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Law enforcement authorities in six different countries have joined forces to take down a “super cartel” of drug traffickers that controls about one-third of the cocaine trade in Europe, the European Union’s crime agency said Monday.

Europol said 49 suspects have been arrested during the investigation, with the latest series of raids across Europe and the United Arab Emirates taking place from Nov. 8-19.

The agency said police forces involved in “Operation Desert Light” targeted both the “command-and-control center and the logistical drugs-trafficking infrastructure in Europe.”

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More than 33 tons of drugs was seized during the investigations run in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UAE with the support of Europol. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration also played a role in bringing down the organization, which was also involved in money laundering, Europol said.

“The scale of cocaine importation into Europe under the suspects’ control and command was massive,” Europol said, adding that the suspects used encrypted communications to organize drug shipments.

The Netherlands was the country where most of the arrests were made, with 14 suspects arrested in 2021. Europol said six “high-value targets” were arrested in Dubai.

Criminal gangs used what they thought was a secure messaging app, but it turned out that the FBI and other authorities were privy to every word.

Dutch authorities said one of the suspects arrested in Dubai imported thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the Netherlands in 2020 and 2021. The 37-year-old man with dual Dutch and Moroccan nationality is also being prosecuted for allegedly laundering large amounts of money and for possession of firearms. Police started investigating him after investigators cracked the encrypted messaging service Sky ECC, which is popular with criminals.

A 40-year-old Dutch-Bosnian citizen was also arrested in Dubai following an investigation based on intercepted Sky messages, according to Dutch police. He is suspected of importing into Europe cocaine and raw materials for the production of amphetamines.

Record amounts of cocaine are being seized in Europe. Its availability on the Continent has never been higher, with extremely high purity and low prices.

More than 214 tons of cocaine was seized in the region in 2020, a 6% increase from the previous year, and experts from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction believe that amount could reach 330 tons in 2022.


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