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Europol operation takes down drug 'super-cartel'

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-11-30 09:38

A picture taken on Sept 28, 2022 in Brussels shows card games displayed during a press conference to launch the 2022 'EU Most Wanted' campaign by ENFAST and Europol, to draw attention to fugitive members of organized crime groups. [Photo/Agencies]

Police have dismantled a so-called European super-cartel of drug dealers that controlled about a third of the region's cocaine supply, with a total 49 arrests made and property seized in a coordinated international action dubbed Operation Desert Light.

Raids took place in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Arab Emirates, with six chief suspects among those arrested in Dubai, including a British national thought to be the head of the operation, said European Union crime agency Europol.

The agency said it targeted both Dubai, which was suspected to be the "command-and-control center" of the organization, and the "logistical drugs trafficking infrastructure in Europe".

"The scale of cocaine importation into Europe under the suspects' control and command was massive and over 30 tons of drugs were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigations," Europol said.

A statement from Spain's Guardia Civil police force said the British suspect had links to the Costa del Sol region of the country but fl ed from there to Dubai after an attempted kidnapping plot against him.

Spanish police said that it was in Dubai that "the leaders of the megacartel controlled and directed the criminal activities of the different cells, convinced that it was a sanctuary where they felt untouchable and allowed them to maintain a high standard of living".

Europol said agents in Dubai had arrested two "high-value" suspects linked to France, two connected to the Netherlands and another two linked to Spain. A Europol source told the Agence France-Presse news service that one of the Dutch suspects was an "extremely big fish".

The Guardian newspaper reported that the two Dutch suspects are allegedly linked to Ridouan Taghi, one of the Netherlands' most wanted men, who was arrested in 2019 and is now on trial.

The Hague-based crime agency said that cocaine imported from South America via the Netherlands was the main focus of the investigation, and 14 of the arrests were made in that country in 2021. The other arrests were made earlier this month, with 13 also detained in Spain, 10 in Belgium and six in France. A video released by Europol showed agents arresting suspects and seizing luxury cars and hidden stashes of cash.

The cocaine retail market in the EU was estimated to be worth at least 10.5 billion euros ($10.9 billion) in 2020, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. "The method used is likely to underestimate the true size of the market, and this figure should be viewed as a minimum estimate," it said.

Europol said: "This coordinated clampdown sends a strong message to criminals seeking sanctuary from law enforcement."

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