30 arrested in crackdown against large-scale drug trafficking network

The Spanish Guardia Civil has dismantled a criminal network engaged in large-scale drug trafficking from South America to Europe. Europol supported the operation against the criminals, who used an elaborate modus operandi to retrieve smuggled cocaine from shipping containers in the Spanish port of Algeciras. The organisation relied on a dedicated front companies to launder the illicit proceeds gained by drug trafficking.

Investigators started looking into this case in late 2022, when 500 kilograms of cocaine were found in a lorry leaving a container terminal. A group of lorry drivers, all working for the same freight transport company, had been using their access to a specific port terminal to remove cocaine from shipping containers. The arrests made that day marked the starting point for further investigations, eventually leading to the dismantling of the entire criminal network, including its leader, the persons responsible for drug distribution and logistics, and the money launderers.

The results of the operation include:
23 houses searched in Spain
30 suspects arrested
total value of assets seized estimated at EUR 40 million
EUR 172 000 in cash seized
10 vehicles, jewellery and luxury watches seized
one assault submachine gun and two pistols, one conducted energy device, and personal defence equipment seized
a large number of cutting tools for opening sea containers and port worker uniforms (used to blend in at container terminals) seized
1 000 kilograms of cocaine, 250 grams of hashish and a bag of marijuana seized
mobiles phones and other IT devices seized

Facilitators inside the port

Members of the criminal network had set up a network of services to facilitate the illegal importation of drugs, which relied partly on the help of port workers. The approach used by the criminals was to enter the container terminal of the Port of Algeciras in lorries under the guise of carrying out legal activities. Once inside the terminal area, one of the criminals would open the containers with hidden drug shipments. The illegal merchandise was then loaded onto a lorry and moved out of the port. The criminals relied on facilitators inside the port, who would also alert them of possible law enforcement activity, to remove the merchandise.

The organisation’s money laundering typologies involved companies registered in the name of front men, as well bank accounts used to deposit criminal funds and conduct wire transfers. At the same time, these companies and front men provided the complex infrastructure needed for to distribute the cocaine.

Europol’s role

Europol provided intelligence and analytical and operational support from the start of the case. On the action day, a money-laundering specialist was deployed on location to cross-check the operational information gathered against Europol’s databases in real time and to provide leads to the investigators in the field.