HomeNewsAnalysisA Look at Serbian Kingpin's Latin America Connections
ANALYSIS

A Look at Serbian Kingpin's Latin America Connections

ARGENTINA / 30 MAY 2012 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

The case of a shady Balkan crime network sheds light on the ways that the South American drug trade has spread to far-flung corners of the globe.

While the lion’s share of cocaine trafficked from the Andes is reserved for the US market, European customers are also an important source of revenue for transnational drug trafficking networks. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2010 World Drug Report, Europe is home to between 4 and 5 million cocaine users. What’s more, experts believe demand for the drug is on the rise there. While cocaine use appears to be declining in North America, UN data shows that the number of cocaine consumers in Europe doubled from 2 million in 1998 to 4.1 million in 2008.

It is in this emerging market that Darko Saric (pictured), a Serbian kingpin with extensive criminal ties, made much of his wealth. According to an investigation by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), Saric heads a drug trafficking network that has brought several tons of cocaine into Europe.

His name was relatively unknown until 2009, when Uruguayan police, acting on intelligence provided by US and Serbian anti-drug officials, seized a yacht carrying more than 2 tons of cocaine on the La Plata River separating Uruguay and Argentina. Saric was identified by Serbian authorities as the head of the group behind the shipment. This has been confirmed in statements made by two captured members of the organization, who pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges in March of this year.

According to the OCCRP’s investigation, Saric’s trafficking route ran from Colombia to Argentina and then on to Uruguay, where it was shipped to the Balkans. From Eastern Europe the drug was sent to Slovenia and Italy, and sold for consumption in Western Europe, home to the vast majority of cocaine users in the region. Other jailed members of Saric’s network claim that they bought cocaine in bulk quantities in Brazil, and shipped it on to Europe from there.

Both of these routes are notable for differing from the main trans-Atlantic drug bridge: Venezuela. As UNODC investigators reported in April 2011, Venezuela is the "most prominent country of origin for direct cocaine shipments to Europe," with most of it coming from Colombia. Indeed, from 2006 to 2008, more than half of all Europe-bound drug shipments intercepted in the Atlantic left from Venezuela. Saric’s reliance on ports in other countries is also an indication that Venezuela is not the only country serving as an important gateway to the European market, despite allegations of high-level collusion with drug traffickers.

This content was produced in partnership with:

OCCRP Logo

Regardless of the routes used by Saric, it is clear that his drug running has met with success. Serbian officials say Saric’s organization made up to 1 billion euros (about $1.24 billion) annually, most of which the Serbian kingpin -- who was born in what has since become Montenegro and maintains citizenship in both countries -- used to set up a number of front companies with business associate Rodoljub Radulovic. These companies supplied Saric with a veneer of legitimacy, which he used to court lucrative business deals with Balkan businessmen.

Saric’s economic success provided him with partners in larger criminal groups as well. Some analysts suggest that one of the reasons why he was able to use Italy as a staging point was because of his connections to the Russian and Italian mafias. Saric’s connections to other transnational criminal groups may have been a factor in his bold response to pressure from law enforcement; in 2010, after several blows to his organization, the crime boss reportedly threatened to assassinate the Serbian president. And while Serbian law enforcement officials claim Saric himself owned coca plantations, he doubtlessly had at least working ties to Colombian drug trafficking organizations like the Rastrojos, who are known for their dealings with European distributors.

The story of Darko Saric, and the extent of his operations in South America, come as a stark reminder of the highly globalized nature of the cocaine trade. While much of the discussion of transnational criminal groups in the region focuses on the waning influence of Colombian cartels and the rise of their Mexican counterparts, other criminal networks are very much a factor in the game.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

URUGUAY / 29 JUL 2013

Prosecutors and judges investigating organized crime in Uruguay have been assigned special police protection after receiving threats, an indication of…

COLOMBIA / 18 JUL 2017

A new report says deforestation in Colombia increased considerably in 2016, with over a third of deforestation occurring in…

COLOMBIA / 31 OCT 2012

The head of Colombian gang the Urabeños was arrested in Buenos Aires, drawing attention to Argentina's…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Tackles Illegal Fishing

15 OCT 2021

In October, InSight Crime and American University’s Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) began a year-long project on illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing in…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Featured in Handbook for Reporting on Organized Crime

8 OCT 2021

In late September, the Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN) published an excerpt of its forthcoming guide on reporting organized crime in Indonesia.

THE ORGANIZATION

Probing Organized Crime in Haiti

1 OCT 2021

InSight Crime has made it a priority to investigate organized crime in Haiti, where an impotent state is reeling after the July assassination of President Jovenel Moïse, coupled with an…

THE ORGANIZATION

Emergency First Aid in Hostile Environments

24 SEP 2021

At InSight Crime's annual treat, we ramped up hostile environment and emergency first aid training for our 40-member staff, many of whom conduct on-the-ground investigations in dangerous corners of the region.

THE ORGANIZATION

Series on Environmental Crime in the Amazon Generates Headlines

17 SEP 2021

InSight Crime and the Igarapé Institute have been delighted at the response to our joint investigation into environmental crimes in the Colombian Amazon. Coverage of our chapters dedicated to illegal mining…