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Europol Busts ‘Major’ Coke Smuggling Ring

Europol detained approximately 40 persons  on Thursday in a years-long investigation to break a major drug smuggling organization, resulting in the recovery of eight tonnes of cocaine, according to international media.

The cartel, whose leaders were located in Turkey and Dubai, suffered a significant setback with a final round of arrests on Wednesday, according to the Hague-based police coordination organization.

The network had “the capacity to transport tonnes and tonnes of cocaine all over the world,” Oscar Esteban Remacha, chief of Spain’s Guardia Civil’s anti-drug trafficking branch, told a press conference in Madrid.

The final phase of the operation began in August 2023, when the Guardia Civil discovered 700 kilos of cocaine on a yacht off the Canary Islands crewed by Croatian and Italian citizens, said Europol.

Spain is a major entrance point for drugs entering Europe due to its relations with Latin America and proximity to Morocco.

After exchanging information with other police agencies, investigators discovered linkages to earlier seizures, which led to the identification of the ring’s leaders. 

Europol reported that many of the network’s members were from Balkan countries.

In total, 40 persons were arrested in six countries, including two high-ranking Croat members of the network who were arrested in Istanbul late last year.

Europol reported that the last four arrests occurred on Wednesday in Spain.

According to an AFP journalist who saw the operation, heavily armed Guardia Civil officers seized one of the suspects, 40, at his home in Marbella, a Mediterranean coastal resort, around daybreak on Wednesday. 

“This is one of the biggest operations against the Balkan cartels to date,” a Croat police officer, Tomislav Stambuk, told the press conference.

Much of the network’s assets, worth several tens of millions of euros, have been seized or frozen, Europol noted.

Smugglers transported cocaine from South America to logistics hubs in West Africa and the Canary Islands.

It was then distributed throughout Europe via locations in Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

The arrest comes at a time when cocaine manufacturing is “skyrocketing” worldwide, according to Robert Fay, head of Europol’s narcotics section.

Cocaine seizures at European ports have reached all-time highs, he added, calling the increase in drug-related violence across the board “worrying.”