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‘Super Cartel’ Controlling Third of Europe’s Cocaine Trade Sacked by Police

Spanning across six countries in Europe and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Europol and multiple law enforcement agencies launched Operation Desert Light and took down one of the world’s largest suppliers of cocaine.

According to a press release, Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency, took out a 49-person “super cartel” and confiscated over 30 tons of drugs amid Operation Desert Light. Police say the cartel was headed by six main drug lords—the only ones considered “high-value targets”—in Dubai, with 43 lower-level henchmen.

“A total of 49 suspects have been arrested during the course of this investigation,” Europol stated. “The drugpins considered as high-value targets by Europol had come together to form what was known as a ‘super cartel’ which controlled around one third of the cocaine trade in Europe.”

Europol shared a YouTube video that showed police officers and dogs combing through homes full of luxury cars and pools as well as piles and piles unopened iPhones.

Nearly every drug enforcement agency around was called in: The massive operation enlisted Spain’s Guardia Civil; France’s Police Nationale; Belgium’s Federal Judicial Police Brussels and Federal Judicial Police Antwerp; the Netherlands’ National Police National Criminal Investigations Division and Police Unit Rotterdam; United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Interior and Dubai Police Force; and the DEA from the United States.

“These arrests are the culmination of parallel investigations run in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UAE with the support of Europol into the activities of this prolific criminal network involved in large-scale drugs trafficking and money laundering.”

“The scale of cocaine importation into Europe under the suspects’ control and command was massive and over 30 tonnes of drugs were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigations.”

Vice reports that a Dutch-Bosnian trafficker Edin Gacanin, 40, aka “Tito” is allegedly one of the 50 largest cocaine traffickers in Europe, according to a leaked DEA report. Tito was a “big fish” suspected drug kingpin, with alleged links to high-profile Dutch crime boss Ridouan Taghi, who was also arrested in Dubai in 2019, and is currently on trial. Zouhair Lamchachti, 39, aka “Beertje”, who is both Dutch and Moroccan, was also arrested as a high value target.

It takes a little coordination to make this operation work: Europol and the Ministry of Interior of the United Arab Emirates teamed up last September. They signed a Liaison Officer Agreement, thus allowing UAE law enforcement liaison officers to be deployed to Europol’s headquarters in the Netherlands, the report explains. 

Europol said they’ve been planning to take down the super cartel for two years.

In Europe, data shows that during the past 10 years, access to cocaine in Europe is increasing yearly, according to The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction’s European Drug Report. “Overall, indicators suggest that the availability and use of cocaine in Europe remains high by historical standards,” analysts wrote. “In 2020, a record high of 213 tonnes of cocaine was seized. Increases in the number of cocaine laboratories dismantled in 2020, seizures of raw materials imported from South America and associated chemicals, together indicate large-scale cocaine processing in Europe.”

The United States is also plagued by cocaine addiction, particularly when the problem involves corruption in law enforcement. A Pentagon off-duty police officer was last month arrested with more than 2.5 kilos cocaine. Arlington County Police Department, in that instance, charged the officer with Possession With Intent To Distribute Controlled Substance and Possession With Intent To Distribute Controlled Substance While Armed. 

Read Europol’s announcement for more details about the police approach to Operation Desert Light.