Authorities in Spain have charged 167 people from 15 countries for their alleged roles in a drug trafficking network, offering insight into the high levels of sophistication and transnational reach of criminal groups moving drugs from South America to Europe.
In one of the largest anti-narcotics operations Spain has even seen, the Spanish Civil Guard arrested 43 people and charged 124 more that are still at large. Among them were 88 Colombians, 36 Spaniards, 20 Ecuadoreans, nine Dominicans, and others from across Latin America and as far afield as Morocco, Russia, and the United States. According to the Spanish Civil Guard, the network's leaders were predominantly based in Colombia, but also in Venezuela, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.
During raids that were the culmination of a yearlong investigation, police also seized more than 62 kilos of cocaine, thousands of Euros in cash and bearer bonds, over a million US dollars in forged notes, weapons and false IDs.
The ring sourced drugs from South America, then imported them into Spain using a variety of methods, including drug "mules," shipping containers, hidden on airplanes and via postal systems. For air shipments they relied on corrupt contacts at the Madrid airport, who removed shipments before they passed through customs. The cocaine was then sent out in specially adapted vehicles, which distributed the drugs around Spain or to other European countries.
The gang also employed a complex system of financial operations to launder money and send it to South America. These predominantly involved the use of money transfer companies and Colombian citizens, who were often unaware their identities were being used. The network also frequently paid for drug shipments using fake US dollars, said the Civil Guard.
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However, the sheer scale of the Spanish operation to dismantle this network offers an unusual opportunity to see the multiple layers, complex operations, and vast network of international contacts required to move drugs across continents.
It is highly unlikely the 163 people implicated in the case belonged to one hierarchical operation. Instead, it seems a core group of predominantly Colombian traffickers were coordinating operations using an array of drug producers, smugglers, distributors and money launderers to weave a cross continental web connecting every stage of the drug trafficking chain.