The European Union crime agency stated Monday that police from six countries collaborated to take down a “mega cartel” said to control a third of Europe’s cocaine trade, resulting in dozens of arrests and large-scale narcotics seizures.
Europol said 49 suspects have been cuffed during “Operation Desert Light,” with the latest series of raids across Europe and the United Arab Emirates taking place between Nov. 8-19.
According to the agency, the investigation’s police forces targeted both the “command and control center and the logistical drugs trafficking infrastructure in Europe.”
With the assistance of Europol, almost 33 tons of drugs were seized in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates.
The US Drug Enforcement Administration also played a role in bringing down the cartel, which was also involved in money laundering, Europol said.
“The scale of cocaine importation into Europe under the suspects’ control and command was massive,” Europol said, adding that the suspects used encrypted communications to organize drugs shipments.
The Netherlands made the most arrests in 2021, with 14 suspects apprehended. Six “high-value targets” were arrested in Dubai, according to Europol.
Authorities in the Netherlands claim that one of the suspects apprehended in Dubai imported thousands of pounds of cocaine into the country between 2020 and 2021.
The 37-year-old suspected drug lord, who is both Dutch and Moroccan, is also being charged with money laundering and possession of firearms.
Investigators cracked the encrypted messaging service Sky ECC, which is popular among criminals, and began investigating him.
According to Dutch police, a 40-year-old Dutch-Bosnian citizen was also apprehended in Dubai following an investigation based on intercepted Sky messages. He is suspected of bringing cocaine and raw materials for amphetamine production into Europe.
Spain’s Civil Guard, which took part in the joint investigation, stated that the leader of the cartel has been identified as a British citizen who fled Spain to avoid being arrested, and relocated to Dubai, from where he continued directing and coordinating the criminal activities of the drug trafficking organization.