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Cocaine, hashish, cannabis and methamphetamines: Europol brings down a huge crime network

origin 1FILE – File photo from this Friday, December 2, 2016 shows the Europol headquarters in The Hague, the Netherlands. © Mike Corder / AP

Authorities from 11 countries have teamed up and led an operation to target one of Europe’s most dangerous criminal networks, according to Europol and Eurojust.

“Several criminal organizations were working together to carry out large-scale polycriminal activities inside and outside the EU,” the European agencies, based in The Hague, Netherlands, said in a joint statement.

These include drug trafficking and money laundering, they said.

“The scale of drug trafficking attributed to the network is immense, with activities reported on three continents,” said Europol and Eurojust.

In the course of the operation coordinated by the two agencies, which took place on Tuesday, around 100 searches were carried out across Europe, targeting both the leaders of these criminal organizations and their accomplices.

Nine people were arrested in France, including a Russian and a Lithuanian in their fifties who live on the French Riviera. These two men are suspected of being responsible for a major trafficking of cocaine and cannabis to Russia, according to a judicial source and a police source who described them as “privileged targets”.

They are the subject of a pending European arrest warrant to be handed over to the Lithuanian authorities, he added.

A preliminary investigation by the French authorities had been opened in 2021, followed by a judicial investigation in January 2022 for drug trafficking and drug importation in an organized gang, criminal conspiracy, money laundering and failure to justify resources, specified the Paris prosecutor’s office.

The investigation was conducted by Ofast, the office dedicated to the fight against drug trafficking in France, and by the Marseille gendarmerie, said a source close to the case.

The other seven people arrested in France – three men and four women – were released without charge at this stage. They are suspected of money laundering and failure to justify resources, according to the judicial source. According to a source close to the case, the seven are partners of the Russian and Lithuanian suspects, and would have benefited from their generosity.

In France, luxury items worth more than 500,000 euros were seized, as well as real estate.

The network, which was also linked to large drug trafficking organizations outside the EU, operated in Lithuania, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Poland, France, Germany and Slovakia.

Large quantities of cocaine, hashish, cannabis and methamphetamines were seized.

“Highly flexible, these criminals quickly adapted to new drug trafficking methods in an attempt to evade law enforcement,” according to European agencies.

In particular, loads of drugs were found on ships and trucks, well hidden in compartments.

Europol said the network is set up like a business, with several criminal groups and intermediaries working together across borders to control the entire drug trafficking chain, from arranging huge drug shipments to distributing them across Europe and beyond. .

Cooperation between countries and European agencies made it possible to adopt a common strategy to prepare for the final phase of the investigation and “bring the whole network down”, Europol said.