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Europe becoming a cocaine-trafficking hub, says Europol

Europe is becoming a hub in the cocaine trade, according to an analysis by the European policing agency Europol,

More cocaine is being shipped to Europe from South America and is also being transported onwards, Europol spokesperson Jan Op Gen Oorth told dpa in The Hague.

Record quantities of drugs being seized are an indicator of the increase in trafficking. According to preliminary data, at least 240 tons of cocaine were seized last year.

Ports in Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain are at the top of the list, according to Europol.

By comparison, in 2020, around 214 tons of cocaine were seized.

But smaller ports, such as Hamburg, are also increasingly being used by criminal gangs. Last year, a record amount of 19.1 tons was seized there.

How much cocaine reaches Europe is hard to say. “We assume that 2,000 tons of cocaine are produced annually in Colombia alone,” said the spokesperson, and more than 60% of it is shipped to Europe, he said.

Only a fraction of the drugs are consumed in the EU, according to Europol. Most of the cocaine is transported from the EU to Eastern Europe, Asia and Australia, according to the latest cocaine report of the police authority and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Checks have increased during that period, Europol said. “But they are not enough in view of the immense quantities being delivered,” the spokesperson said.

And if the investigators do discover packages of cocaine among a load of bananas or pineapples, it’s viewed as little more than bad luck by the drug cartels. “They say to themselves: what the hell,” Op Gen Oorth notes. “They take those losses.”

More and more groups want to profit from the lucrative business. But more competition also leads to more violence. The international gang around Ridouan Taghi, currently on trial in Amsterdam, is notorious for extreme violence. The murder of crime reporter Peter R de Vries in Amsterdam last year is said to be the gang’s doing.

The cases also seem to be related. In the course of the investigation around the find in Hamburg, a further 18 tons were found in the Netherlands and Belgium. But, in this case, the perpetrators were also found.

According to the State Criminal Police Office of the German state of Lower Saxony, the international gang was broken up in April. After raids in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Paraguay, about 20 suspects were arrested, including those believed to be the masterminds behind the operation.

Despite that success, European investigators are under no illusions: Most of the shipments from South America are likely to get through.

It is hard to assess whether the seizure of the record quantities in 2021 had any effect at all on sales. “However, we could not detect a drop in prices,” said the head of the customs investigation office, René Matschke.

Source: GNA

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