Global drug kingpin’s inner circle taken down

In a large-scale raid conducted in Bosnia and Herzegovina, law enforcement officers swarmed homes and offices of 23 persons suspected to be part of the ‘inner circle’ of a drug kingpin apprehended in November 2022. Europol supported yesterday’s action, which serves as another milestone in the fight against the so-called ‘super cartel’, an alliance of criminal networks that controlled much of Europe’s cocaine trade. As in operation ‘Desert Light’, several partners from around the globe collaborated to deal yet another major blow to this criminal structure. Over 40 locations were searched by officers active on the ground, who were joined by Europol specialists, as well as United States Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents.

The primary objective of operation codenamed “Black Tie” was to indict and prosecute a Bosnian-Herzegovinian/Dutch national considered a High Value Target by Europol and the Netherlands. In 2023, the suspect was sentenced to seven years in prison for drug trafficking by Dutch authorities. Another operational objective was to disrupt the entire criminal organisation under the command and control of the High Value Target. This joint international investigation was comprised of Belgian, Bosnian-Herzegovinian, French, and United States law enforcement, supported by Europol.

Despite his arrest in November 2022, the investigation showed that the High Value Target continued to steer drug trafficking from source countries in South America such as Brazil, Colombia, and Peru, to Europe and Australia from his base in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Cooperating with other top-tier international drug traffickers in Dubai, with whom he jointly invested in multi-ton cocaine trafficking ventures, the Bosnian-Herzegovinian/Dutch national became a powerful figure in control of the massive cocaine supply towards Europe and other destinations. Furthermore, the High Value Target is also suspected to be responsible for the production of synthetic drugs in the EU.

Targeting the drug kingpin’s ‘inner circle’
Among the 23 persons arrested yesterday are not only accomplices, but also corrupt officials identified as facilitators of the network’s criminal activities. Leading up to this action, Bosnian-Herzegovinian authorities already arrested two suspects and seized EUR 55 000 in cash, 8 firearms, 11 police radios and money-laundering documentation. On the action day, law enforcement seized further cash, cars, laptops and other evidence.

Following an information request received in June 2023 from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europol supported the Bosnian-Herzegovinian authorities in the investigation against a core group, or ‘inner circle’, of trusted members of the High Value Target’s criminal organisation. Amongst other criminal offences, the national judicial case was centred on serious crimes such as large-scale drugs trafficking, money laundering and related organised crime in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Europol’s role
Europol deployed two specialists with mobile offices to Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to gather and cross-check intelligence and assist in further coordinating activities. In addition to the support provided leading up to yesterday’s action, Europol has been supporting the overall investigation with intelligence and coordination. Since early 2021, Europol’s experts have developed and shared over 30 intelligence packages related to the high-value target and his criminal network.