Mexican drug cartels operating in the European Union

Mexican cartels are providing drug expertise on European Union territory, specifically on cocaine and methamphetamine, which could lead to an increase in violence and the emergence of fentanyl as potential future threats.

Last December 2022, Europol and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of the United States published a joint analysis report that would show that Mexican criminal groups have worked together with EU criminal networks to boost methamphetamine and cocaine trafficking from South America to the European Union.

This new type of criminal collaboration also extends to the production of cocaine hydrochloride and methamphetamine. Although there are no indications yet of the existence of a fentanyl market in the EU, the discovery of production facilities and the seizure of the substance in the Union raise concerns about the possible emergence of a fentanyl market.

This is the first time that European and U.S. law enforcement authorities have produced a joint document in the fight against global drug trafficking. The report, entitled Complexities and Conveniences in the International Drug Trade: The Involvement of Mexican Criminal Actors in the EU Drug Market, is the result of the ongoing exchange of operational and strategic information between analysts and police officers on both sides of the Atlantic.

As shown by the most recent EU Serious and Organized Crime Threat Assessment, criminal networks are increasingly international and specialised in scope, with 65% of active criminal groups consisting of members of various nationalities. Also following this trend is the presence of Mexican criminal actors collaborating with EU actors in the European drug market.

The joint report gives detailed explanations of how the criminal networks involved cooperate with each other, especially through the use of specialised actors at different stages of their operations. The various actors include facilitators such as laboratory specialists, envoys, intermediaries and money laundering service providers. Law enforcement has arrested Mexican laboratory specialists, also known as ‘cooks’, who worked in production positions in Europe. Because of their unique knowledge of how to produce higher and more potent yields of the final product and obtain larger and more profitable methamphetamine crystals, these actors are particularly important.

The report also states that Mexican cartels collaborate with EU-based criminal networks to traffic both methamphetamine and cocaine into European ports for distribution or transit to even more lucrative markets in Asia and Oceania. The use of concealed shipments, such as cocaine hidden in cellular thermal concrete blocks, or plans to establish cocaine smuggling routes from Colombia to southern Italian airports with private jets, show the constantly evolving nature of these criminal activities. Corrupt public and private sector officials act as facilitators and help increase the likelihood of successfully trafficking drug shipments to Europe.

On U.S. soil, Mexican cartels have a history of establishing drug trafficking hubs and strong criminal associations, and using violence to gain control of the territory where they operate. An increased presence of Mexican cartels in the EU could also lead to increased profits for them and their criminal collaborators, as well as increased violence in Europe.


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