Police in Spain and Morocco have dismantled what has been called the "most active" drug trafficking organization to operate across three continents, shedding light on the broad networks with connections to Latin America that smuggle cocaine via the Atlantic Ocean into Europe.
In the first joint Spanish - Moroccan operation against maritime cocaine trafficking, authorities reportedly dismantled a transnational organization operating, in part, from Colombia and seized 2.575 metric tons of cocaine. Spain's Interior Ministry described the group as "one of the main drug trafficking networks operating in three continents," with "great financial and logistical capacity."
? Policía Nacional (@policia) December 6, 2016
A video of the operation by the Spanish police
Authorities tracked the cocaine shipment as it headed from South America to Spain and was transferred to a Moroccan fishing vessel near Cabo Verde, La Voz de Asturias reported. On November 12, security agents intercepted the boat around 160 kilometers off the coast of the disputed territory of Western Sahara. As part of the operation, 18 people were arrested in Morocco and 6 others in Spain.
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The group had Colombian origins and was headquartered in Spain -- where the leader of the Colombian "oficina" (literally translated as "office") reportedly operated -- and had another base in Morocco. Its members were Colombian, Spanish and Moroccan nationals.
A map of the recently busted trafficking operation. C/o La Voz de Asturias
The news comes only days after French authorities discovered 1 metric ton of Colombian cocaine apparently belonging to a network made up of citizens from various countries of Latin America and Europe.
InSight Crime Analysis
This seizure is representative not only of the cocaine trafficking route that goes from the Americas to West Africa and Europe, but also the expansion of a Colombian-style crime syndicate across the Atlantic, notably via the so-called oficinas. While these were originally debt collection offices for traffickers in cities such as Medellín, today they are essentially foreign branches of Colombian organized crime that provide services to international criminal organizations and that set up drug shipments. Colombia's largest criminal organization, the Urabeños, is one of the most recent groups to begin setting up oficinas in Spain.
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It is unclear whether or not this dismantled network had ties to larger groups, but the Atlantic cocaine route to Europe has long been used by powerful criminal organizations from across the world.
Italy's 'Ndrangheta mafia has been one of -- if not the most -- important European player in Latin America for decades, and has tentacles all across the continent. More recently, Eastern European networks, particularly from Serbia and Montenegro, have been increasing their clout in drug transportation from Latin America. This was illustrated only months ago, with the arrest of a Serbian crime boss in Peru.