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Brit based in Dubai held on suspicion of running cartel responsible for third of cocaine in Europe

A DRUG "super cartel" that allegedly controlled about a third of Europe's cocaine supply has been disrupted following a series of raids and arrests including the British alleged leader in Dubai.

Operation Desert Light as seen 49 people arrested across six European countries, and the United Arab Emirates, the EU's police agency, Europol, said.

More than 30 tonnes of drugs have been seized over a two-year-long investigation.

The operation saw authorities in the Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the UK and the US work together to bring down the cartel, Europol said in a statement.

It included six "high-value targets" wanted by international police.

According to reports in Dutch and Bosnian media, the headcount includes Bosnian alleged mob boss Edin Gačanin, 40, who was a guest at Daniel Kinahan’s 2017 wedding party, and is aligned to the Kinahan cartel.

Between 8-19 November, coordinated raids were carried out across Europe and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), targeting both the command-and-control centre and the logistical drugs trafficking infrastructure in Europe.

A Europol spokesman said: "A total of 49 suspects have been arrested during the course of this investigation. The drugpins considered as high-value targets by Europol had come together to form what was known as a ‘super cartel’ which controlled around one third of the cocaine trade in Europe.

These arrests are the culmination of parallel investigations run in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UAE with the support of Europol into the activities of this prolific criminal network involved in large-scale drugs trafficking and money laundering.

The scale of cocaine importation into Europe under the suspects’ control and command was massive and over 30 tonnes of drugs were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigations.

Cocaine imported from South America via the Netherlands was the main focus of the investigation, and most of the arrests were made there in 2021.

The others were made earlier this month, between 8-19 November, during coordinated raids across the other six countries, Europol said.

A video on the agency's YouTube page showed teams of investigators and sniffer dogs searching homes filled with luxury cars.

The British man suspected of heading the "super cartel" had fled to Dubai after earlier avoiding arrest in Spain, the country's Guardia Civil said in a statement.

He allegedly continued to lead the cartel from the UAE.

An Europol source told the AFP news agency that another "big fish" Dutch suspect, with alleged links to high-profile Dutch crime boss Ridouan Taghi, was also detained.

Extradition proceedings are now expected.

The British National Crime Agency (NCA) said its officers have taken part in the operation.

A spokesman said: "The group is believed to have smuggled cocaine from south America to Europe via ports such as Barcelona, Valencia and Algeciras.

"NCA international liaison officers worked with the Spanish Guardia Civil in relation to a British man alleged to be a key part of the network. Living on the Costa del Sol, he is suspected of being the group’s money launderer, setting up a construction business to conceal the criminal origin of the profits.

"Another British man, believed to be the group’s leader, was arrested in Dubai having fled there from the Costa del Sol following a kidnap attempt. He is understood to have directed and coordinated the group’s criminal activities from the UAE.

"Spanish police also seized 500,000 Euros in cash during raids on villas, along with weapons, high end cars and luxury watches. Some of the vehicles were worth around 300,000 Euros."

Steve Reynolds, NCA regional manager in Spain, said: “This is yet another example of the NCA’s international reach and close cooperation with overseas law enforcement agencies to help combat the organised criminals behind the trade in class A drugs.

“In this case, we helped our Spanish counterparts to target a British man who was one of the crime group’s key players. We will continue to offer any support we can to assist the Spanish Guardia Civil investigation.”

Participating law enforcement authorities:

Spain: Civil Guard (Guardia Civil)

France: National Police (Police Nationale – OFAST)

Belgium: Federal Judicial Police Brussels (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie Brussel/Police Judiciaire Fédérale de Bruxelles), Federal Judicial Police Antwerp (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie Antwerpen)

The Netherlands: National Police National Criminal Investigations Division and Police Unit Rotterdam (Nationale Politie - Dienst Landelijke Recherche en Eenheid Rotterdam)

United Arab Emirates: Ministry of Interior (وزارة الداخلية) Dubai Police Force (القيادة العامة لشرطة دبي)

United States: US Drug Enforcement Administration

Results in brief

Spain: 13 arrests + 2 High-Value Targets arrested in Dubai

France: 6 arrests + 2 High-Value Targets arrested in Dubai

Belgium: 10 arrests

The Netherlands: 14 arrests in 2021 and 2 High-Value Targets arrested in Dubai


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