Police have busted a huge drug “super cartel” that controlled about a third of Europe’s cocaine trade, arresting 49 people in several countries, including six top suspects in Dubai, Europol said on Monday.
The international operation codenamed “Desert Light” seized 30 tons of the drug and led to arrests in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain, the European Union’s police agency said in a statement.
The crackdown in Dubai brought in a “big fish” from the Netherlands, believed to have links to alleged Dutch crime boss Ridouan Taghi, himself captured in the Gulf emirate in 2019.
“Drug traffickers, considered high-value targets by Europol, had banded together to form what was known as a ‘supercartel’ that controlled around a third of Europe’s cocaine trade,” Europol said .
“The scale of cocaine being imported into Europe under the control and command of the suspects was massive and law enforcement seized more than 30 tonnes of the drug over the course of the investigations.”
The Dutch suspect allegedly formed an alliance in Dubai with leaders of Irish and Italian drug gangs who had also been arrested, Dutch public broadcaster NOS said.
A video released by Europol showed officers, including some from the US Drug Enforcement Administration and Spain’s Civil Guard, arresting suspects and seizing luxury cars and hidden cash.
“very big fish”
Europol said Dubai had arrested two “high value” suspects linked to France, two linked to the Netherlands and another two linked to Spain.
Ten people were arrested in Belgium, six in France and 13 in Spain. Another 14 people were arrested in 2021 in the Netherlands as part of the same operation, the Hague-based organization said.
“One of the Dutch suspects is an extremely big fish,” a Europol source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
“He was just as important as Taghi, if not more important.”
The arrests from November 8 to 19 were the latest in a series across Europe following a police hack of sophisticated encrypted phones used by organized crime networks last year, Europol said.
Police secretly used the SKY ECC phone platform to listen in on what were supposed to be secure communications between drug traffickers.
Most of the drugs were destined for cocaine from South America through the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, although some had passed through South Africa.
Dutch prosecutors said they would seek the extradition of the two suspects from the United Arab Emirates.
One of them was a 40-year-old Dutch-Bosnian national, suspected of smuggling 1.8 tons of cocaine through the German port of Hamburg in 2020 and preparing to import 8 tons of raw materials to produce amphetamines via Antwerp in Belgium.
Dutch media named him Edin G. and said he was wanted by the US DEA for his links to alleged drug lord Ridouan Taghi.
Taghi, of Moroccan origin, was arrested in Dubai in 2019. He is now on trial in the Netherlands for murder and running a large cocaine smuggling ring based in Amsterdam.
The other suspect is a Dutchman and a 37-year-old Moroccan, whom Dutch media named Zouhair B. and said he had smuggled three tons of cocaine worth more than 200 million euros into the Netherlands.
He was also suspected of money laundering and possession of firearms.
The investigation into the two men was launched based on decrypted messages from SKY phones, Dutch prosecutors said in a statement.
“These are serious crimes related to international drug trafficking, mainly from South America through the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam,” he said.
The Spanish Civil Guard reported that a total of 13 people had been arrested in Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga on November 8 after 698 kilograms (1,539 pounds) of cocaine were found in a container in the port of Valencia.
The head of the smuggling operation, a British national, fled to Dubai after an attempted arrest in Spain and continued to run operations from there, it said in a statement.
The cocaine was imported from Panama to Central America and its supplier, a Panamanian, also lived in Dubai, he said.