Police have dismantled a “super cartel” that controlled a third of Europe’s cocaine trade, arresting 49 people in various countries, including six chief suspects in Dubai, Europol has said.
The operation seized 30 tonnes of the drug and led to arrests in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain, the EU’s police agency said in a statement.
The crackdown, which was said to involve one “extremely big fish” from the Netherlands and based in Dubai, largely targeted cocaine coming from South America through the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.
“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. “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.”
It said Dubai had arrested two “high-value” suspects linked to France, two connected to the Netherlands and two linked to Spain.
Ten people were arrested in Belgium, six in France and 13 in Spain. Last year, 14 people were arrested in the Netherlands as part of the same operation.
The arrests were the latest in a series that have followed a police hack last year of sophisticated encrypted telephones used by organised crime networks, Europol said. Police took down the SKY ECC phone platform after secretly using it for a long period to listen in on what were supposed to be secure communications between drug traffickers.
Dutch prosecutors said they would request the extradition of the suspects from the UAE.
They said one of the suspects was a 37-year-old man with dual Dutch and Moroccan nationality, who was held for allegedly importing thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the Netherlands in 2020 and 2021.
“These are serious criminal offences pertaining to international drug trafficking, mainly from South America via the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam,” the Dutch public prosecution service said.
The other was a 40-year-old Dutch-Bosnian dual national, it said.
“One of the Dutch suspects is an extremely big fish,” a Europol source said on condition of anonymity.
The Dutch suspects were allegedly linked to Ridouan Taghi, who was arrested in Dubai in 2019 and is now on trial in the Netherlands, the source said. Taghi is accused of running a huge Amsterdam-based cocaine smuggling group and faces charges including murder.
Spain’s Guardia Civil said 13 people were arrested in Barcelona, Madrid and Málaga on 8 November after 698kg of cocaine were found in a container in the port of Valencia.
It said the head of the smuggling operation, a British national, fled to Dubai after an attempted arrest in Spain and was continuing to direct operations from there.
The cocaine was imported from Panama, and his supplier, a Panamanian, also lived in Dubai, it said.