Dutch authorities have intercepted three unusual drug loads from Mexico at the country’s main flight hub, Schiphol Airport, highlighting a new trend in drug trafficking to Europe.
Customs found 136 kilograms of cocaine and nine kilograms of methamphetamine on January 5 in a container that had arrived at Schiphol from Mexico, according to a Twitter post by the Royal Dutch Marechaussee (Koninklijke Marechaussee – KMar) on January 9.
The tweet was later deleted, but a KMar spokesperson told InSight Crime this was only for technical reasons. The month before, in early December, customs interdicted 60 kilograms of crystal meth in airfreight from Mexico -- a large amount given the agency only seized 20 kilograms of meth in all of 2021.
And in late November, customs discovered 300 kilograms of cocaine in airfreight from Mexico. The three seizures, which occurred within a six-week interval, come amid concern that Mexican drug traffickers are increasingly targeting Europe.
In December, a joint Europol-DEA report identified a growing collaboration between Mexican cartels and EU-based criminal networks to smuggle cocaine and methamphetamine into the continent.
“Most often, drugs are concealed in food, construction materials and equipment as well as other commodities, such as water filters and wooden doorframes,” said the document, which suggested that most incoming meth is re-exported to more lucrative destinations in Oceania.
InSight Crime Analysis
As Mexico’s drug traffickers continue their thrust into overseas markets, they seem to be increasingly favoring airfreight, at least to smuggle meth. As Europe’s third busiest cargo airport, that makes Schiphol a key reception point.
Since 2021, most seizures of Mexican meth outside of the Americas have involved air cargo, leaving from Mexico City International Airport, and smuggling 50 to 200 kilograms of liquid or crystal meth at a time, according to InSight Crime open-source analysis.
During this period, the Netherlands has not made any major interdictions, yet it has a history with drugs from Mexico. In 2019, Dutch police found a record 2.5 tons of Mexican meth in a Rotterdam office building. Since then, the agency has identified 17 Mexican nationals suspected of facilitating Dutch meth production, according to its latest 2021 Drug Report.
Nor is this necessarily a cartel effort, said Arthur Debruyne, Mexico correspondent at Dutch media outlet FD and author of an upcoming book on the Mexican-Dutch meth trade. Small and mid-level Mexican smugglers are also trying to diversify destinations, as a saturated US market drives meth prices to record lows.
“Last year, I interviewed [a] trafficker in Culiacán, Sinaloa, [who] told me that … smaller independent traffickers like him were looking increasingly to Europe -- Spain and the Netherlands -- to ship meth,” Debruyne said to InSight Crime. “And he actually shipped smaller quantities like this one, 10 kilos, 20 kilos, 30 kilos, via airfreight."
As for cocaine, the Mexico connection is more surprising. US demand is increasingly shaky, but geography should still make it the Mexican narco’s top choice. The Dutch police’s 2021 Drug Report shows the Netherlands only seizes a few hundred kilograms of cocaine from Mexico per year, so Schiphol’s 436 kilograms in six weeks is extremely unusual.
The airport’s typical interceptions of cocaine loads involve cocaine from Suriname, Aruba, and Curaçao, according to a 2020 analysis by Bureau Beke, a Dutch think tank. More cocaine seizures at Schiphol from Mexico might therefore indicate the European market’s gravitational pull is growing faster than expected.
It is a possibility for which the Netherlands is already preparing. In November, the Dutch Minister of Justice and Security told the House of Representatives the government spent $14 million to reinforce controls at Schiphol in 2022. That will increase to $23.5 million in 2023 and $33.5 million in 2024.