Europol has supported the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) in dismantling a criminal organisation smuggling large quantities of cocaine from South America to the EU via the Canary Islands. The operation also involved law enforcement authorities from Croatia, Italy and Serbia. The investigation identified a significant threat; criminal organisations’ increasing ability to collaborate closely and deploy members to different locations for longer periods to enable large-scale drug trafficking. The international cooperation of law enforcement authorities across the EU was therefore crucial for intercepting the suspects and halting their criminal activities.
The investigation, initiated in March 2022, focused on a Polish-flagged vessel with an established temporary base in the Canary Islands, and which was suspected of being used for the transportation of cocaine. Since then, law enforcement authorities monitored the activities of the crew. One of the individuals, an Italian national, was linked to the Italian ´Ndrangheta and the other, a Croatian national, was linked to the so-called Balkan Cartel. Although they had no professional activity, both were enjoying high living standards while maintaining the vessel in excellent condition.
The suspicious vessel was making irregular trips to demonstrate normality up until 27 July 2023, when the Spanish authorities detected an unusual trip to an isolated point deeper in the Atlantic Ocean. The vessel departed from there on 2 August and three days later Spanish authorities raided the ship and uncovered 700 kilograms of cocaine on it. Meanwhile, officers on the ground in Spain arrested the Croatian suspect and another person, a Serbian national, both suspected of coordinating the drug smuggling operation from the land. During the arrests, the suspects were found in possession of the phones from which they coordinated the criminal activity.
Europol facilitated the exchange of information and provided continuous analytical support to the investigation. Europol also contributed to the overall case coordination among various agencies and supported the action day remotely.