Thursday, February 2, 2023

Cocaine, hashish, cannabis and methamphetamine: Europol brings down huge crime network

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Authorities from 11 countries have worked together and carried out an operation to target one of Europe’s most dangerous criminal networks, according to Europol and Eurojust. 

“Several criminal organizations were working together to carry out large-scale polycriminal activities inside and outside the EU,” the European agencies, based in The Hague, Netherlands, said in a joint statement.

These include drug trafficking and money laundering, they said.

“The scale of drug trafficking attributed to the network is immense, with activities reported on three continents,” said Europol and Eurojust.

During the operation coordinated by the two agencies, which took place on Tuesday, around 100 searches were carried out across Europe, targeting both the heads of these criminal organizations and their associates.

In France, nine people were arrested, including a Russian and a Lithuanian man in their fifties who live on the Côte d’Azur. These two men are suspected of being decision-makers in a very important cocaine and cannabis trafficking to Russia, according to a judicial source and a police source who described them as “privileged targets”.

They are the subject of a pending European arrest warrant to be handed over to Lithuanian authorities, it added.

A preliminary investigation by French authorities had been opened in 2021, followed by a judicial investigation in January 2022 for drug trafficking and importation of drugs in an organised gang, criminal conspiracy, money laundering and failure to justify resources, the Paris prosecutor’s office detailed.

The investigation was conducted by Ofast, the office dedicated in France to the fight against drug trafficking, and the gendarmerie of Marseille, said a source close to the case.

The seven other people arrested in France — three men and four women — have been released without prosecution at this stage. They are suspected of money laundering and failure to justify resources, according to the judicial source. According to a source close to the case, the seven are associates of the Russian and Lithuanian suspects, and would have benefitted from their largesse. 

Luxury items, worth more than €500,000 were seized in France, as well as real estate.

The network, which is also linked to large drug trafficking organizations outside the EU, operated in Lithuania, Latvia, Czech Republic, Poland, France, Germany and Slovakia.

Large quantities of cocaine, hashish, cannabis and methamphetamine were seized.

“Highly flexible, these criminals were quickly adapting to new drug trafficking methods in an attempt to evade law enforcement,” according to European agencies.

In particular, drug shipments were found in ships and trucks, well hidden in compartments.

Europol said the network was structured like a business, with different criminal groups and intermediaries working together across borders to control the entire drug trafficking chain — from organising huge drug shipments to distribution throughout Europe and beyond.

The cooperation between the countries and European agencies has made it possible to adopt a common strategy to prepare the final phase of the investigations and “bring down the entire network”, said Europol.

Numisteamone

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