Police swoop on Balkan cartel’s European ‘cocaine pipeline’

MADRID — Law enforcement agencies from eight European countries pounced on a Balkan crime organization allegedly running the continent’s largest cocaine distribution network, making 61 arrests and seizing more than four metric tons (4.4 tons) of the drug, authorities said Monday.

Europol, the European Union’s police agency, said the cartel set up a “cocaine pipeline” from South America to Spain and other European countries. Europol stated that the cartel was “flooding Europe” with cocaine.

The coordinated international operation involved crime-fighting agencies from Spain, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia and Colombia, according to Spanish police. Police also traveled to Brazil, Dubai and the Dominican Republic as part of their investigation. The smuggling gang was made up mostly of eastern Europeans, including what Europol said were two “high-value targets.”

The gang included members of paramilitary units and was “one of the most important criminal organizations operating in Europe,” Spanish police said. The gang was also accused of robberies and money laundering.

In Colombia, the gang was involved in transfers of soccer players between clubs to launder their illicit drug gains.

The operation began in 2018 and culminated in the arrests in March and May.

Europol said news of the operation was being announced months later, because approvals for the release of information take time when multiple countries are involved.

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