Joint actions of the Belgian Federal Police in Antwerp (Federale Politie Antwerpen), the Dutch National Police (Politie), the German Regional Police (Landeskriminalamt Niedersachsen) and Federal Police (Bundeskriminalamt / BKA), coordinated by Europol, led to the identification and prosecution of the main European High Value Targets who import large quantities of cocaine to the European Union from South America. The Paraguayan National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD – Secretaria Nacional Antidrogas) also participated in the operation.
This operation targeted the European and South American drug and money-laundering infrastructure of a large-scale trafficking network, with which the operation already had great success in February 2022 with the seizure of 34 tonnes of cocaine in Belgium and Germany.
Europol facilitated the exchange of information and worked with intelligence studies and data based on criminal analyses, which allowed a detailed picture of the operations of the networks across countries and continents to be obtained.
The action day on 20 April 2022 led to:
- Over 35 locations searched by the police.
- 17 arrests (5 in Belgium, 11 in Germany and 3 in The Netherlands).
- Seizures in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands, including electronic devices, documents, four vehicles, luxury watches and properties, including four apartments, as well as bank accounts and cash with a total value of 5.5 million euros.
These operational activities are the culmination of a parallel investigation by Belgian, Dutch and German law enforcement authorities into a criminal network trafficking shipments of several tonnes of cocaine from their countries of origin to Europe. The operation began in February 2021 when the police authorities of the ports of Hamburg and Antwerp seized a total of 34 tonnes of cocaine in 3 shipments linked to this criminal network. During the investigation, the cooperating authorities discovered that this criminal group had the capacity to send multiple shipments of several tonnes of cocaine to Europe in just a few months.
The command and control centre of the traffickers and the European targets behind it were headquartered in Dubai. From there, they managed the cocaine trafficking from their own production infrastructure in Bolivia. Logistical and supply lines were also identified in Paraguay.
The leaders of the criminal network used encrypted communication to organise their large shipments. The coordination of the several tonnes of cocaine trafficked was intercepted as a result of taking down the Sky ECC encrypted communications platform in 2021. This also led to the discovery of a large network of legitimate businesses created to allow the import of drugs from South America and the laundering of related revenue. For example, to enter the EU, the cocaine was hidden in shipments of bananas, coffee and plaster.