Cocaine ‘super-cartel’ busted in Europe, Dubai

Published November 29, 2022
FOOTAGE released by Europol shows Spanish police detaining suspects 
in an undisclosed place as part of a drug trafficking investigation.—AFP
FOOTAGE released by Europol shows Spanish police detaining suspects in an undisclosed place as part of a drug trafficking investigation.—AFP

THE HAGUE: Police have smashed a huge drugs “super-cartel” that controlled around a third of Europe’s cocaine trade, arresting 49 people in various countries, including six chief suspects in Dubai, Europol said on Monday.

The international operation codenamed “Desert Light” seized 30 tonnes of the drug and led to arrests in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain, the European Union’s police agency said in a statement.

The crackdown in Dubai netted a “big fish” from the Netherlands, who reportedly had links to alleged Dutch crime boss Ridouan Taghi, himself seized in the Gulf emirate in 2019.

“The drugpins, considered as high-value targets by Europol, had come together to form what was known as a ‘super cartel’ which controlled around one third of the cocaine trade in Europe,” Europol said.

Police arrest 49 people, seize 30 tonnes of drugs in various countries

“The scale of cocaine importation into Europe under the suspects’ control and command was massive and over 30 tonnes of drugs were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigations.”

The Dutch suspect had allegedly formed an alliance in Dubai with the leaders of Irish and Italian drug gangs who had also been arrested, Dutch public broadcaster NOS said.

‘Extremely big fish’

Europol said Dubai had arrested two “high-value” suspects who are linked to France, two connected to the Netherlands and another two linked to Spain.

Ten people were arrested in Belgium, six in France and 13 in Spain. Another 14 people were arrested in 2021 in the Netherlands as part of the same operation, the Hague-based organisation said.

“One of the Dutch suspects is an extremely big fish,” a Europol source told AFP on condition of anonymity. “He was just as important as Taghi, if not more important.”

Police secretly used the SKY ECC phone platform to listen in on what were supposed to be secure communications between drug traffickers.

Most of the drugs targeted cocaine coming from South America through the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, although some had passed through South Africa.

Dutch prosecutors said they would request the extradition of the two suspects from the UAE.

One was a 40-year-old dual Dutch-Bosnian national, suspected of smuggling 1.8 tonnes of cocaine via the German port of Hamburg in 2020, and of preparing to import eight tonnes of raw materials for producing amphetamines via Antwerp in Belgium.

Dutch media named him as Edin G. and said he was wanted by the US DEA for his links to alleged drug kingpin Ridouan Taghi. Moroccan-born Taghi was arrested in Dubai in 2019.

The other suspect is a 37-year-old dual Dutch and Moroccan national, whom Dutch media named as Zouhair B. and said had allegedly smuggled three tonnes of cocaine to the Netherlands worth more than 200 million euros. Spain’s Guardia Civil said a total of 13 people had been arrested in Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga on Nov 8 after 698 kilograms of cocaine were found in a container in the port of Valencia.

The head of the smuggling operation, a British national, fled to Dubai after an attempted arrest in Spain. The cocaine was imported from Panama in central America and his supplier, a Panamanian, also lived in Dubai, it said in a statement.

Published in Dawn, November 29th, 2022

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