Combined law enforcement teams from Croatia, Italy, Serbia, Europol and the Spanish Guardia Civil have seized 700 kilograms of cocaine from the so-called “Balkan Cartel.”
The drugs were seized and a number of suspects arrested after a months-long operation lasting several months. Those arrested include a Croat, a Serb and an Italian.
The “Balkan Cartel” was allegedly smuggling large quantities of cocaine from South America to the European Union, using a route via the Canary Islands.
“The investigation identified a significant threat; criminal organizations’ increasing ability to collaborate closely and deploy members to different locations for longer periods to enable large-scale drug trafficking,” said Europol in a statement.
“The international cooperation of law enforcement authorities across the EU was therefore crucial for intercepting the suspects and halting their criminal activities,” it continued.
Beginning in March last year, the investigation first focused on a Polish-flagged vessel with a temporary port in the Canary Islands. The vessel was suspected of being used for the transportation of cocaine.
Authorities then monitored the activities of the crew as part of the investigation.
The Italian national arrested by authorities is suspected of being linked to an Italian organized crime syndicate, while the Croatian national is suspected of having links to the so-called Balkan Cartel.
“Although they had no professional activity, both were enjoying high living standards while maintaining the vessel in excellent condition,” said Europol.
Spanish authorities detected the vessel making an unusual trip to an isolated point in the Atlantic Ocean in July. The vessel left the location on 2 August. Three days later, Spanish authorities raided the vessel and seized some 700 kilograms of cocaine.
At the same time, police officers in Spain arrested the Croatian suspect in addition to another individual, a Serbian national. Both individuals are suspected of coordinating the major drug-smuggling operation from land.
Europol said the suspects were in possession of phones used to coordinate the crime at the time of their arrest.
Over the last few years, Europol has targeted the Balkan Cartel in a series of operations, including one in May that captured 37 people under the leadership of a Bosnian national. In that instance, the group was allegedly responsible for the large-scale trafficking of both drugs and firearms across Europe.
Coordinated raids across Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands similarly targeted a major cocaine cartel in May this year. The group was charged with smuggling more than 100 kilograms of cocaine, and a total of 37 suspects were arrested as part of the operation.
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