6.5 tonnes of cocaine found hidden between bananas in Colombia and Spain

Europol supported the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) to dismantle a criminal network involved in the multi-tonne trafficking of cocaine from South America to the EU. The investigation, which started in October 2022, involved the Colombian National Police (Policía Nacional de Colombia) and the Latvian State Police (Latvijas Valsts policija). Europol facilitated the exchange of information and provided continuous analytical support. On the action day, Europol deployed officers to Spain to support intelligence developments during the field activities. 

Overall results include:

  • 8 locations searched in Cádiz and Málaga
  • 13 arrests 
  • Seizures included: 6.5 tonnes of cocaine, vehicles, luxury watches, a large number of electronic devices and EUR 1.5 million in cash 

Drugged banana containers

The leader of the criminal network is considered to be one of Spain’s biggest drug traffickers. Based in Malaga, the kingpin headed a large-scale network, smuggling tonnes of cocaine from Ecuador and Colombia to the EU in a wholesale type of criminal business structure. The crime boss is also a member of a well-known local family from the Spanish city Castellar de la Frontera, which used a wholesale frozen fish company in Algeciras as a front business. 

The criminal network laundered the illicit assets through this company, while also being involved in attempts to corrupt public officials. As for the smuggling of cocaine, the criminal network used another means to stash their illicit cargo – bananas. The cover shipment was the importation of bananas from Ecuador and Colombia. Once the shipments were extracted from the port of Algeciras and were on their way to their legal destination, they were diverted to a warehouse where the pallets with cocaine were replaced with identical ones containing bananas. 

Over the past seven months, national authorities seized a number of large cocaine shipments linked to this criminal organisation. In December 2022, the Colombian Police seized about 3 tonnes of cocaine concealed in banana shipments transiting from the port of Turbo via the port of Cartagena and destined for the Spanish port of Algeciras. In another incident, Colombian authorities intercepted a second shipment of 1.25 tonnes of cocaine at the port of Cartagena. The legal destination of this shipment was the Spanish port of Vigo. However, the cargo had to first pass by the port of Algeciras, where the drugs should have been extracted by the criminal network. 

In May 2023, to avoid possible interceptions in Colombia, the criminal network arranged a new shipment directly from Ecuador to Algeciras. This time, the drugs reached Spain and an associate of the network extracted the pallets from the port area. The Spanish authorities intercepted this large shipment of 2.296 tonnes of cocaine while it was on its way to a nearby warehouse. The cocaine was hidden between legal shipments of bananas. During this intervention, Spanish officers arrested seven suspects. The Colombian and Spanish authorities seized 6.5 tonnes of cocaine in total, valued at about EUR 223 million on the illegal market.