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49 arrests in European cocaine ‘super cartel’ arrest

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BRUSSELS — Law enforcement agencies in six different countries have joined forces to take down a “super cartel” of drug traffickers that controls about a third of Europe’s cocaine trade, the European Union crime organization said Monday.

Europol said 49 suspects were arrested during the investigation. The latest series of raids in Europe and the United Arab Emirates took place between November 8 and 19.

The agency said police forces involved in “Operation Desert Light” targeted both the “command-and-control center and logistical infrastructure for drug trafficking in Europe.”

More than 30 tonnes of drugs were seized during the investigations carried out with the support of Europol in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UAE. The US Drug Enforcement Administration also played a role in bringing down the organization, which was also involved in money laundering, according to Europol.

“The scale of cocaine imports into Europe under the control and command of the suspects was enormous,” Europol said, adding that the suspects used encrypted communications to organize drug shipments.

The Netherlands was the country with the most arrests, with 14 suspects arrested in 2021. Europol said six “high-value targets” were arrested in Dubai.

According to the Dutch authorities, one of the suspects arrested in Dubai would have imported thousands of kilograms of cocaine to the Netherlands in 2020 and 2021. The 37-year-old man with both Dutch and Moroccan nationality is also being prosecuted for laundering large amounts of money and possession of firearms. Police began investigating him after investigators cracked the encrypted messaging service Sky ECC, which is popular with criminals.

According to the Dutch police, a 40-year-old Dutch-Bosnian citizen has also been arrested in Dubai following an investigation based on intercepted Sky messages. He is suspected of having imported cocaine and raw materials for the production of amphetamines into Europe.

Record amounts of cocaine are seized in Europe. Availability on the continent has never been higher, with extremely high purity and low prices.

More than 214 tonnes of cocaine were seized in the region in 2020, an increase of 6% on the previous year, and experts from the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction believe that amount could reach 300 tonnes by 2022.

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