The Spanish and Serbian authorities have dismantled a large-scale drug trafficking network, through a joint investigation team (JIT) with the active support of Eurojust. Across both countries, a total of 43 members of a Serbian organised crime group (OCG) have been arrested for their involvement in the production and distribution of marijuana and hashish, mainly destined for sale in Germany. The criminal network operated plantations in the Spanish provinces of Zaragoza and Tarragona, where fellow nationals were exploited for the cultivation of the drugs.
The main suspects will be charged with drug trafficking, migrant smuggling and money laundering. Most of the proceedings were laundered in Serbia, Spain and other European countries, using a string of shell companies. The OCG was very well organised and employed electricians to condition and run the plantations. Furthermore, it involved managers and intermediaries between the different echelons of the organisation and lawyers to open account numbers, using false documents.
The network had set up a professional distribution chain for the transport of the drugs, with lorries registered in the name of companies of other EU Member States, specially set up for the purpose. In total, 14 indoor plantations have been dismantled, one of which was hidden under a Russian orthodox church.
During a major action day in June and interventions against the OCG in January of this year, coordinated and supported by Eurojust and Europol, the authorities carried out 19 searches and seized over 17 000 marijuana plants, over 880 kilos of marijuana buds and at least 130 kilos of produced marijuana and hashish resins.
Approximately EUR 250 000 in cash was also seized, as well as computer and telecommunications equipment, a luxury vehicle and a handgun. As of January, 400 kilos of marijuana and almost 4 kilos of hashish had already been intercepted.
Eurojust initiated the cross-border judicial cooperation in November 2020, leading to the setting up of the first JIT between Spain and Serbia. It was the first time the Spanish authorities had initiated a JIT with a third country. Further, the Agency enabled the coordination between the Spanish and Serbian authorities and assisted in organising the action day against the OCG.
The operation was led by chamber no. 2 of the Investigative Court and Public Prosecutor’s Office of Huesca in Spain and the Office of the Prosecutor for Organised Crime of Serbia in Belgrade, with the support of various specialised teams of the Spanish Guardia Civil. In Serbia, the specialised Service for Fighting Organised Crime (SBPOK) of the national police carried out the operations on the ground.
The actions were carried out as a part of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT), a security initiative driven by EU Member States to identify, prioritise and address threats posed by organised and serious international crime. Europol provided financial support to this EMPACT operation.
Serbia is one of the ten third countries with a Liaison Prosecutor at Eurojust, to coordinate judicial cross-border cooperation. The first Serbian Liaison Prosecutor at the Agency started in March 2020, and the total number of newly registered cases with the involvement of Serbia rose by 62.5 % last year.