Underworld ‘co-working’ space shut down in Antwerp

The Antwerp Local Police in Belgium and Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil), supported by Europol, have targeted a criminal network involved in cannabis and cocaine trafficking and money laundering. The alleged members of this family-structured criminal group, based in Antwerp, were already known for multiple criminal activities including organised burglaries, firearms trafficking, money counterfeiting, and several forms of drug trafficking.

The investigation started in April 2022 after police discovered that a restaurant in Deurne, Antwerp, was being used as a cover for drugs sales. Many alleged members of criminal networks were known to use the restaurant as a meeting place. The lead suspect was managing a family-structured criminal group, composed of several relatives and other contacts playing various roles at all levels of the organisation. Most of the suspects have both Belgian and Albanian or Belgian and Kosovar* nationalities.

This network was discovered to have close contacts with a second criminal network led by a Spanish national living in Sint-Gillis-Waas, Belgium. This criminal group was connected to the importation of hashish from Spain and extraction of cocaine shipments from Antwerp harbour. The network had access to several corrupt employees working in the area of the port. The investigation also showed that relatives of this individual, based in Spain, were active in money laundering in the regions of Almería and Granada.

To avoid detection, the suspects used encrypted communication, fake identity documents and vehicles registered under false identities. They are also suspected of laundering their criminal profits through legal companies and real estate businesses based across Albania, Kosovo*, Belgium and Spain.

The action day on 10 May led to:
42 house searches (35 in Belgium and 7 in Spain)
30 arrests in Belgium
A restaurant closed
Seizures include drugs (cocaine, hashish and cannabis); weapons, ammunition, silencers and bulletproof vests; forged documents and mobile phones; assets including 14 vehicles, a camper, luxury watches, EUR 50 000 in a bank account and about EUR 60 000 in cash.

Europol coordinated the operational activities, facilitated the exchange of information and provided analytical support. Europol additionally provided an in-depth analysis of the encrypted communication datasets, as well as financial support for the organisation of the operational activities. On the action day, Europol deployed two experts to Antwerp, Belgium, to cross-check operational information in real-time and support the investigators on the ground.