An investigation by Spanish authorities has uncovered an alleged cocaine trafficking network headed by a Mexican citizen linked to several different drug cartels, shedding light on the "franchise model" Mexican crime groups use to traffic drugs to Europe.
On August 23, EFE reported it had obtained access to a Spanish police report alleging Juan Manuel Muñoz Luévano -- also known by the aliases "El Mono" and "El Ingeniero" -- headed a trafficking ring that brought cocaine into Spain through the port of Valencia, Spain's second busiest seaport and the sixth busiest in Europe.
Spanish police arrested Muñoz on March 18 in Madrid, accusing him of money laundering and criminal association. Soon thereafter, US authorities unsealed a federal indictment charging Muñoz with drug trafficking, money laundering and weapons violations in the United States. The United States also requested Muñoz's extradition from Spain.
US prosecutors identified Muñoz as an "important member" of the Zetas organization. However, the arrest order issued by Spanish prosecutors said that Muñoz worked "independently," maintaining "business relationships with various Mexican drug trafficking cartels" including the Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Gulf Cartel and the Beltran-Leyva Organization, reported EFE.
Spanish investigators are also looking into possible ties between Muñoz and Humberto Moreira, the former governor of the Mexican state of Coahuila, who was arrested in Madrid in January, according to EFE. Moreira is suspected of laundering money he embezzled from public coffers during his time as governor as well as helping launder money the Zetas earned from drug trafficking.
According to transcripts of intercepted phone calls reviewed by EFE, Muñoz claimed Moreira's brother Rubén -- the current governor of Coahuila -- had contacted him about laundering money. In another wiretapped conversation, Muñoz appears to contemplate ordering the assassination of a judicial worker in Coahuila.
InSight Crime Analysis
Historically, Colombian organized crime has controlled much of the flow of cocaine from South America to Europe, but the involvement of Mexican crime groups in trafficking cocaine to Spain is not a recent development. A top Spanish customs official warned US counterparts in 2009 that "Mexicans were replacing Colombians as cocaine traffickers to Spain," while a 2011 report from the European Police Office, Europol, noted a "reported increase" in trafficking of cocaine to Europe from Mexico.
Colombians still play a key role in moving cocaine to Europe, and a takeover of cocaine trafficking in Spain by Mexican groups is unlikely. However, the Muñoz case is evidence of a different way of operating, which could represent the future for Mexican criminal organizations looking to move drugs into Europe -- and possibly Colombian groups as well.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime
If the Spanish authorities are correct, and Muñoz worked with various cartels as an independent operator, then this points to Latin American criminal networks using locally established service providers through a "franchise model," whereby large criminal organizations contract local groups along trafficking routes to Europe, giving these networks access to drugs, contacts and information about how to transport the product.