Police arrested at least 49 people in several countries in the huge international operation, seizing 30 tons of drugs.
Police have broken up a massive drug “super cartel” that controlled a third of Europe’s cocaine trade, arresting 49 people in several countries, including six main suspects in Dubai, according to Europol.
The huge international operation seized 30 tons of the drug and led to arrests in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain, the European Union law enforcement agency said in a statement on Monday.
The crackdown, which involved an “extremely big fish” from the Netherlands that was based in Dubai, mainly targeted cocaine flown in from South America via the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.
“Drug traffickers, considered high-value targets by Europol, came together to form what is known as a ‘supercartel’ that controlled around a third of the cocaine trade in Europe,” Europol said.
“The scale of the importation of cocaine into Europe under the control and command of the suspects was enormous and law enforcement seized more than 30 tons of drugs in the course of investigations.”
‘High value’ suspects
Europol said Dubai had arrested two “high value” suspects linked to France, two linked to the Netherlands and two linked to Spain.
Ten people were arrested in Belgium, six in France and 13 in Spain. Another 14 people were arrested in 2021 in the Netherlands as part of the same operation, the Hague-based organization said.
The arrests were the latest in a series that followed a police hack into sophisticated encrypted phones used by organized crime networks last year, Europol said.
Police dismantled the SKY ECC phone platform last year after secretly using it to listen to what were supposed to be secure communications between drug dealers.
Dutch prosecutors said they would request the extradition of the suspects from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
One of the suspects is a 37-year-old man with dual Dutch and Moroccan nationality, arrested for allegedly importing thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the Netherlands in 2020 and 2021.
“These are serious criminal offenses related to international drug trafficking, mainly from South America via the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam,” the Dutch prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
‘Extremely large fish’
The other was a 40-year-old man with dual Dutch and Bosnian citizenship, he said.
“One of the Dutch suspects is an extremely large fish,” a Europol source told the AFP news agency 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 large Amsterdam-based cocaine smuggling ring and faces charges including murder.
Spain’s Civil Guard said a total of 13 people had been arrested in Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga on November 8 after 698 kilograms (1,539 pounds) of cocaine was found in a container in the port of Valencia.
The head of the smuggling operation, a British citizen, fled to Dubai after an attempted arrest in Spain and continued to run operations from there, it said in a statement.
The cocaine was imported from Panama into Central America and its Panamanian supplier also lived in Dubai, he said.