Documents from the US District Court in New Hampshire -- one of multiple US courts that have indicted Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on drug trafficking charges -- describe how Sinaloa Cartel operatives tried to tap into the European market, and how an FBI sting took them down.
A report by Spanish-language TV network Univision described the three-year, undercover FBI operation, meant to attack the Sinaloa Cartel’s European and New England smuggling operations. Posing as members of an Italian organized crime group, FBI agents first met with Sinaloa Cartel representatives in 2009 and soon established a relationship with Jesus Gutierrez Guzman, El Chapo’s cousin.
To begin the new partnership, they agreed on a shipment of 1,000 kilograms of cocaine to a port in Spain, which Guzman said could be sent from “Bolivia, Panama, Venezuela, Belize or Peru,” Univision reported. According to a Spanish police officer interviewed by the TV network, the Sinaloa Cartel first sent four test shipments of fruit from Ecuador to gauge security at the Spanish port.
In 2012, Gutierrez Guzman travelled to Madrid with three other Sinaloa Cartel members, where all four were arrested in August by Spanish police. In October 2014, Gutierrez Guzman pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Univision report highlights the Sinaloa Cartel's long-running desire to tap into the lucrative European market. For years, Mexican drug traffickers have been trying to replace Colombian groups as the main providers of cocaine to Europe, using Spain as a gateway. This makes sense given declining cocaine use in the US and rising consumption in Europe, as well as lower European interdiction rates.
SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile
While Colombian traffickers have tended to rely on embedded and well-armed cells to manage European operations and settle debts, Mexican cartels usually send smaller groups to build contacts with local distributors -- like the FBI agents posing as Italian mafia in the Gutierrez Guzman bust.
It's also notable that the Sinaloa Cartel used Ecuador as their homebase to export test shipments to Europe, according to the Univision report. The cartel is believed to control much of the Andean country's transnational drug trade.
Besides Europe, the Sinaloa Cartel has also sought out new markets in Australia and Asia.