Spain’s major cocaine bust sinks Balkan cartel – 2.7 tonnes seized

by Lorraine Williamson
Balkan cartel drugs bust

In a synchronised operation spanning Serbia and Spain, law enforcement authorities have made significant strides in dismantling a notorious Balkan drug cartel. Europol played a pivotal role in supporting the takedown of this major drug trafficking organisation, which had been under investigation by the Europol-coordinated Operational Taskforce Balkan cartel.

Cracking down on the Balkan cartel

This far-reaching operation involved the collaboration of law enforcement agencies from Brazil, Croatia, France, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Slovenia. The Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) also provided invaluable support. The investigation was initiated by the Belgrade Department of the Serbian Criminal Police in January 2022. Furthermore, it targeted a drug cartel allegedly responsible for large-scale cocaine trafficking from South America into the European Union.

As the investigation unfolded, it became evident that the criminal network was orchestrating multi-tonne cocaine shipments from Brazil to the EU. Operational intelligence revealed that Ukrainian and Czech skippers were frequenting locations in West Africa. And in particular, Cape Verde, to prepare their vessel for smuggling operations. Furthermore, recent information pinpointed the vessel’s location in Brazil. Moreover, this lead to close monitoring by Brazilian and Spanish authorities, aided by MAOC-N.

Operation’s successful outcomes

The culmination of these efforts was realised on August 24, resulting in the following series of significant achievements:

  • Arrests: Six individuals associated with the drug cartel were apprehended.
  • Searches: Fifteen house searches were conducted to gather crucial evidence.
  • Cocaine Seized: An astounding 2.7 tonnes of cocaine were confiscated.
  • Additional Seizures: In addition to the cocaine, authorities also seized two high-end vehicles, luxury watches, and over €550,000 in cash.
  • Financial Measures: A substantial number of bank accounts and real estate holdings have been frozen for the duration of the ongoing financial investigation.

Targeting the key players

During the course of their investigation, law enforcement agencies identified a Serbian national as one of the principal organisers within the criminal network. Consequently, this individual was designated as a High Value Target (HVT). The operation focused not only on this Serbian HVT but also other key individuals essential for the cartel’s ongoing operations. These main coordinators facilitated shipping operations through encrypted communication platforms, making their capture imperative for dismantling the network.

Europol’s vital role

Europol played a crucial role throughout this complex operation. The agency facilitated the exchange of information and provided continuous analytical support. Furthermore, intelligence developments revealed a vast, intercontinental network operating across multiple countries. Europol’s coordination among national authorities was instrumental. This included the deployment of an expert to Belgrade and the collaboration of Serbian investigators with Spanish authorities during searches of the seized vessel.

The fight against Balkan cartels

Yet again, this operation underscores the importance of international collaboration in tackling organised crime. Notably, the crackdown on three encrypted communication tools used by criminals, namely Encrochat, Sky ECC, and Anom, has provided law enforcement with unprecedented insights into criminal networks worldwide. One striking revelation has been the significant role played by criminal networks largely composed of individuals from the Balkan region in the global cocaine trade.

Europol’s response: Operational taskforce Balkan cartel

In response to this evolving threat, Europol established the Operational Taskforce Balkan Cartel. This specialised taskforce brings together countries from the Balkan region, the European Union, and across the globe to effectively target and dismantle criminal networks. Under the leadership of members with close Balkan ties, these efforts aim to curb the influence of such cartels.

International collaboration

The success of this operation demonstrates the power of international collaboration in combating drug trafficking and organised crime. The participating authorities from Brazil, Croatia, France, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, and Spain have sent a strong message: no criminal network is beyond the reach of determined and united law enforcement agencies. This significant seizure of 2.7 tonnes of cocaine has not only disrupted the operations of the Balkan Cartel but has also contributed to a safer and more secure Europe.

Also read: International drug operation dismantled resulting in 23 arrests

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