A heavy blow to the “super cartel”
EEuropean investigators have dealt a serious blow to the international trade in cocaine. As the EU police authority Europol announced on Monday, a total of 49 people were arrested in four EU countries and in the United Arab Emirates. They are said to belong to a “super cartel” that controls a third of the cocaine trade in Europe.
During the investigation, which lasted two years, a total of 30 tons cocaine been secured. Europol released images of the operation, dubbed “Desert Light,” which also included large amounts of cash, expensive cars, motorcycles and watches. Raids took place between November 8th and 19th. “This coordinated access sends a strong message to criminals seeking refuge from prosecution,” said the agency coordinating the investigation.
Close cooperation with Dubai
The close cooperation with Dubai is remarkable; a total of six people were arrested there, who are classified by the investigators as “high value targets”. Dubai has become a favorite haunt of drug lords because they feel safe there. However, the authorities in the Emirates have now concluded extradition agreements with the Netherlands and Belgium. Also Europol has strengthened its cooperation with the Emirates. Since September, an agreement has made it possible to exchange liaison officers.
Belgium and the Netherlands also played a leading role in the current police action; because of their seaports, they are the main arrival countries for cocaine from South America in Europe. Investigators from France, Spain and the United States were also involved. In December 2019, the Moroccan Dutch drug lord was in Dubai Ridouan Taghi arrested and extradited to the Netherlands shortly thereafter. One of the biggest criminal cases in the country is going on against him. Taghi and others have to answer for several contract killings.
Even now, at least one of those arrested in Dubai comes from this organized crime scene, in which people of Moroccan origin play a central role. As the Dutch police announced, it is a 37-year-old man with Dutch and Moroccan nationality. He is being prosecuted by the Rotterdam Public Prosecutor’s Office for importing thousands of kilograms of cocaine in 2020 and 2021, involvement in a criminal organization, money laundering of large amounts, bribing officials and possession of firearms.
The investigation into the man began when investigators broke into the encrypted SkyECC phone service used by criminals in early 2021 and decrypted hundreds of thousands of messages. Before they launched the service in March, they were able to watch conversations in real time for three weeks. It was about the handling of illegal business and murder orders in the scene. A quarter of the users stayed in the Netherlands and in Belgium, especially around the port of Antwerp, which, along with Rotterdam, is the main gateway for cocaine shipments. The arrested man is said to have played an important coordinating role in the import of cocaine. He has been wanted by Interpol since April this year. It is uncertain whether there is a direct connection to the Taghi case.
Another suspect arrested in Dubai on behalf of the Netherlands is a 40-year-old man of Dutch and Bosnian nationality. Criminal investigations were also initiated against him due to intercepted Sky messages. The man is suspected of having imported large quantities of cocaine, including 1,800 kilograms imported via the port of Hamburg and 740 kilograms from Durban, South Africa. He is also said to have engineered the import of nearly 8,000 kilograms of raw materials for the manufacture of amphetamine. The raw materials for the production of medicines came via the port of Antwerp. The Hague requested the extradition of the two men.
In the port of Antwerp, 90 tons of cocaine with a resale value of at least five billion euros were confiscated last year, a record figure. In the current year, even the mark of 100 tons is likely to be exceeded. The drug will be destroyed, but the Belgian tax authorities reported last week that the incineration capacity was not sufficient. An ever-increasing amount has to be temporarily stored in warehouses, which entails security risks.