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  • Record seizure of cocaine in Germany
  • A major drug smuggling ring is busted in Spain
  • More cocaine enters Europe every year
Germany seized a large pack of drugs. Colin Davis/Unsplash

Record seizure of cocaine in Germany

German investigators have seized 35.5 tonnes of cocaine with a market value of around €2.6 billion in the biggest drug raid in the country's history. Some 24.5 tonnes were seized in Hamburg, eight in the Dutch port of Rotterdam and three in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

The drugs were found in nine sea containers stacked between crates of fruit and other legally transported goods between April and September last year[1].

Colombian authorities informed German investigators of the situation, and eight main suspects were identified in the OP Plexus operation with Europol: two Germans, two Turks, and one each from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Morocco, and Ukraine.

Seven of the suspects were arrested in raids across Germany in late May and early June. They are accused of setting up dozens of front companies to smuggle cocaine from South America, together with as yet unidentified accomplices suspected to be in Turkey.

Police seized several mobile phones and laptops, gold bars, €23 300 in cash and a Porsche car worth around €250 000.

According to Tino Ingelmann, Head of Investigations at the German Customs in Düsseldorf, Germany seizes more cocaine every year, with a total of 43 tonnes seized in 2023.

A major drug smuggling ring is busted in Spain

In March, Europol announced that a major drug smuggling ring had been dismantled in Spain in a year-long operation that led to the arrest of around 40 people and the seizure of eight tonnes of cocaine. Europol said the cartel may have been transporting tonnes of cocaine not only in Europe but also worldwide.

The latest phase of the operation began with the discovery in August 2023 by the Spanish Civil Guard of 1 540 kg of cocaine on board a boat off the Canary Islands, crewed by Croatian and Italian nationals.

After exchanging their data with other police forces, the investigators found links with previous seizures and were able to identify the ringleaders. It soon became apparent that many of the criminal network members were from the Balkans.

Europol says that most of the network's assets, worth tens of millions of euros, have been seized or frozen.

The cocaine was found to have been transported from South America to logistics centres in West Africa and the Canary Islands. It was then sent to hubs in Belgium, Croatia, Germany, Italy and Spain for distribution throughout Europe.

Authorities around the world have recently recorded other major cocaine trafficking cases. Colombian naval officers seized two semi-submersibles with almost 5 tonnes of cocaine in the Pacific Ocean[2]

The US Coast Guard reported that a shipment of cocaine worth USD 63 million had been unloaded in a Florida port following a shoot-out in which a suspected drug smuggling vessel and its crew were sunk in the Caribbean Sea.

Europe faces a bigger issue of drugs. Colin Davis/Unsplash
Europe faces a bigger issue of drugs. Colin Davis/Unsplash

Last month, the French Navy announced that it had seized 2.4 tonnes of cocaine from a fishing vessel in the Atlantic Ocean.

At the beginning of the year, Bolivia announced a record seizure of cocaine. Officials reported a value of $224 million, almost double that in Europe, where the illicit cargo was most likely being transported.

Bolivian President Luis Arce, in a message posted on social media, described the seizure of around 8.8 tonnes of cocaine as the largest ever recorded in a South American country.

He added that the drugs were hidden in the wooden flooring found in the truck and were most likely destined for the Netherlands, where they are estimated to be worth around USD 526 million.

More cocaine enters Europe every year

Cocaine smuggling is growing rapidly, especially in Europe. The amount of cocaine seized in European ports has reached record levels and the increase in drug-related violence in the European Union (EU) is a growing concern[3].

Since 2017, EU police and customs officers have seized more drugs each year than the year before. In 2021, this amounted to 303 tonnes - five times more than a decade ago.

According to a report last year by the United Nations (UN) Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the cultivation of coca leaf has been increasing in Bolivia, Colombia and Peru since 2014, with a 35% increase between 2020 and 2021.

As a result, global cocaine production has surpassed the 2,000 tonne mark, doubling since 2014. Moreover, the drug is now 40% purer than in 2010.

In Europe, cocaine sells for up to twice as much as in the US, where the market is already saturated and traffickers and smugglers are now particularly interested in the old continent.

With an estimated 3.5 million Europeans using cocaine in 2021, four times more than 20 years ago, Europol estimates the total value of the European street cocaine market at around €7.6-10.5 billion.

Police say the business is mainly controlled by Mexican mafia gangs, which were once the middlemen of Colombia's Cali and Medellin cartels and now control most of the chain, from financing production to organizing smuggling into Europe.

The shipments are segregated to reduce costs and risks and sold to pan-European crime syndicates, including the Moroccan mafia in Belgium and the Netherlands, the Serbian, Albanian and Kosovo gangs, and the Calabrian Ndrangheta.

Antwerp remains the main entry point for cocaine into Europe. In 2022, 110 tonnes of cocaine were intercepted there.