Balkan cocaine traffickers have steadily been gaining influence over the trans-Atlantic cocaine trade, as evidenced by information stemming from key recent arrests.

On April 25, a new report from Balkan Insight laid out how Darko Saric, a Serbian-Montenegrin cocaine trafficker, had been slowly but surely tracked by European police forces before his April 14 arrest, along with four members of his criminal organization.

The arrests joined another operation carried out the same day by Serbian, Croatian and Europol agents against a Croatian-based trafficking group similarly accused of smuggling cocaine from South America to Europe.

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The two groups have been linked in Croatian media for their collaboration in drug trafficking and involvement in the attempted assassination of a Balkan trafficker that took place in 2020 in Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Saric’s arrest drew headlines in Balkan media. For years, he ran one of the most successful cocaine trafficking organizations based out of the Balkans, overseeing a multi-continental operation.

The kingpin has been under house arrest in Serbia awaiting a retrial after his original 20-year sentence was annulled, according to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).

InSight Crime Analysis

The Darko Saric saga is in many ways emblematic of the evolution of Balkan cocaine traffickers in South America: tracing their rise, potential for targeted violence and ability to conduct business from behind bars.

By the late 2000s, the Saric network had nodes across most of South America, including in Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. Cocaine smuggling was done in collaboration with some of the region’s most notorious crime groups, including Colombia’s Rastrojos and Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC). Saric’s drug trafficking profits were estimated to be $1.2 billion per year.

Such was Saric’s influence that he set the stage for the current generation of Balkan cocaine traffickers, with many Montenegrin criminals starting their careers working on his and his contemporaries’ drug boats, according to Sasa Djordjevic, field coordinator for Serbia and Montenegro at Global Initiative.

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“Later, [Montenegro’s] Kotor criminal organization inherited Saric’s cocaine business,” Djordjevic told InSight Crime. This would help birth the influential Kavac and Skaljari clans that continue to traffic drugs from South America.

After Saric’s arrest in 2014, his increased reliance on violence would come to mirror parallel changes in the behavior of Balkan networks in South America, particularly in Ecuador’s port of Guayaquil, where Balkan criminals are being assassinated.

He also managed to maintain his network, despite facing drug charges at home. His collaborators included Croatian Petar Kosic, who was arrested alongside Saric and who had already served four years for smuggling drugs in 2011. Serbian and Albanian traffickers also have been re-arrested in South America on drug charges.

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