HomeNewsBriefEurope Busts Point to Uruguay as Cocaine Transit Point
BRIEF

Europe Busts Point to Uruguay as Cocaine Transit Point

COCAINE / 1 AUG 2019 BY YURI NEVES EN

More than a half a ton of cocaine was smuggled aboard a private jet that landed in Switzerland after departing from Uruguay, revealing that traffickers could be increasingly using the Southern Cone country as a major exit point for drugs destined for Europe.

Authorities recently released new details about the May 16 seizure of 603 kilograms of cocaine found in suitcases on the jet after it had landed in Basel, Switzerland, the Swiss news site SWI reported. The plane had departed from Carrasco airport in Uruguay’s capital city of Montevideo, and then made a stopover in Nice, France, before landing in Switzerland.

Three passengers — foreign nationals from Croatia, the Czech Republic and Montenegro — were arrested. Little was revealed about them. One, however, is suspected of being a top leader in what was described as a Balkan criminal group.

SEE ALSOUruguay News and Profile 

Authorities also seized two million euros in cash and one million euros worth of luxury goods from the private plane, according to Europol, the European Union’s law enforcement agency.

The drug bust was part of a larger worldwide operation targeting the Balkan criminal network. It led to the arrests of 16 people in five different countries, including another suspected leader of the group based in Croatia.

In a press conference announcing the arrests, officials from Europol said the group used private planes to smuggle South American cocaine to Europe and Asia.

Meanwhile, authorities in Germany announced this month that 4.5 tons of cocaine was discovered inside a shipping container at the northern port city of Hamburg. The shipping container — said to contain soybeans — also came Montevideo, and was destined for the Belgium port of Antwerp, custom’s officials said. The seizure was the largest in the nation’s history, Deutche Welle reported.

InSight Crime Analysis

Uruguay has long been seen as being free of the high-level drug trafficking that plagues other countries in the region, such as Brazil and Colombia. But recent seizures indicate that is changing.

In the first seven months of 2019, for example, authorities in Uruguay have seized over 1.5 tons of cocaine, nearly double last year’s total.

Besides smuggling drugs aboard planes, traffickers have also used maritime routes. Since August of last year, there have been three major seizures of cocaine hidden in cargo on ships destined for Europe that originated in or passed through Uruguay.

In April, German authorities discovered 440 kilograms of cocaine concealed in bags of rice on a container ship that docked in Hamburg. The ship had travelled from Montevideo, where authorities said the drugs were smuggled on board, El País reported.

SEE ALSO: Prison Break of Italian Mafia Boss Threatens Uruguay’s Reputation

In September of 2018, 417 kilograms of drugs were seized at the port of Montevideo. The drugs were hidden among bundles of wool aboard a ship that was heading to the Belgium port of Antwerp.

In an interview with Uruguayan news site ECOS, the country’s top anti-drug official said that the country has always been an alternative transit point for cocaine.

European demand, however, for cocaine is growing. With street prices there higher than in the United States, traffickers will likely look for ways to increasingly rely on Uruguay as a launching pad to feed the cocaine pipeline to Europe.

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.

Related Content

EUROPE CRIME / 21 NOV 2014

Mexico's drug traffickers appear to be looking to expand the methamphetamine trade far beyond the Western Hemisphere, as evidenced by…

COCAINE / 6 OCT 2020

The photos in the Costa Rican press showed Salvatore Ponzo, the Italian fruit exporter, with a neatly trimmed beard and…

CARIBBEAN / 30 MAY 2014

Maritime antinarcotics authorities have seized over 17 tons of cocaine around Puerto Rico so far this year, a huge increase…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Strategic Communications Manager Job Description

12 FEB 2021

InSight Crime is looking for a full-time strategic communications manager. This person needs to be able to work in a fast-paced world of daily news, high-profile investigations, national and international…

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …