Over 60 charged in crackdown on Balkan cartel behind cocaine pipeline to Europe

An unprecedented international law enforcement operation involving 8 countries has resulted in criminal reports being filed against 61 suspects  belonging to a Balkan drug cartel flooding Europe with cocaine. 

A number of actions have been carried out in the past year in the framework of an Operational Taskforce between Spain, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the United States and Colombia, with coordination efforts led by Europol’s European Serious Organised Crime Centre. 

This highly mobile criminal organisation had branches active in several European countries and was composed mainly of criminals from Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Slovenia.

An Operational Taskforce was established by Europol in July 2020 to bring together all the involved countries to coordinate a joint strategy to bring down the whole network. Since then, Europol has been provided continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators. 

Results of the Operational Taskforce Balkan Cartel 

  • 61 members have been charged, out of which 23 have been arrested (13 in Spain and 10 in Slovenia)
  • Seizure of 2,6 tonnes of cocaine
  • Seizure of 324 kilos of marijuana
  • Seizure of €612 000 in cash
  • Seizure of 9 luxury vehicles and 5 motorbikes

A coordinated strike 

In the framework of intelligence activities carried out with their international counterparts, the Spanish investigators developed reliable intelligence that this cartel was preparing a major cocaine importation from South America into Europe in spring of this year. 

Special surveillance measures were put in place as the criminals moved back and forth between Spain and South America to finalise the details of the cocaine importation, totalling over 1,25 tonnes. 

The investigation gathered pace in March of this year when the leaders of this cartel travelled to Spain to prepare for the arrival of the cocaine shipment. These two individuals – considered as High-Value Targets by Europol, had until then avoided attending meetings in person in order to evade law enforcement. 

This was too good of an opportunity for law enforcement to miss: in the early hours of 10 March 2021, officers from the Spanish National Police (Policia Nacional) carried out simultaneous raids in the cities of Tarragona, Barcelona, Gerona and Valencia, arresting thirteen individuals, including the two kingpins and a police officer who collaborated with the criminal organisation. 
The Spanish investigators also dismantled the cartel’s alternative revenue streams, such as the production and trafficking of marijuana and the sale of luxury vehicles. 
 
In a follow-up action in May 2021 some 48 other members of the organised criminal group were charged in Slovenia by the National Police (Policija) for their involvement in the distribution of the cocaine and marijuana throughout Europe. A total of 10 of these suspects are now under arrest.  

The following law enforcement authorities were involved in this crackdown: 

  • Spain: National Police (Policia Nacional)
  • Croatia:  National Police Office for Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime (Policijski nacionalni ured za suzbijanje korupcije i organiziranog kriminaliteta – PNUSKOK) 
  • Serbia: Criminal Investigation Directorate of Serbia (Uprava kirminalisticke policije)
  • Germany: Federal Criminal Police Office (Bundeskriminalamt),  Police Headquarters Frankfurt am Main (Polizeipräsidium Frankfurt am Main)
  • Slovenia: National Bureau of Investigation 
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: Federal Police Sarajevo
  • United States: United States Drugs Enforcement Administration 
  • Colombia: National Police (Policia Nacional)

This Operational Taskforce was part of Europol’s strategy in countering serious organised crime originating from the Western Balkans.