How a drug theft involving fake police uncovered a major Costa smuggling gang

The powerboat loaded up in a lorry when seized in Seville province in November.
The powerboat loaded up in a lorry when seized in Seville province in November. / SUR
  • With 15 arrests and 1,200 kilos of hashish seized, Operation Caravan provided an insight into trafficker and police tactics

Drug barons impersonating police, a man walking along the road carrying guns, a shootout and a bullet-ridden van loaded with 870 kilos of hashish abandoned after a chase and an accident... It could have been a scene from any action film, but this was real life and happened in the Malaga suburb of Puerto de la Torre.

Operation Caravan was a joint investigation between National Police and customs officers which broke up one of the major criminal gangs trafficking hashish in the Costa area. It is a story that gives an insight into the current workings of both the smugglers and the police.

The theft of hashish from one gang by another, what the police term as a 'vuelco' (turnover), took place on 29 May.

The Malaga-based gang was apparently transporting the drug in a van to the inland village of Almogía to hide it when it was approached by other dealers, using cars with police lights to try to stop them.

After the chase, the shootout and the accident, everybody fled the scene, abandoning the loaded van.

Internal dispute in the gang

Inquiries by the real police soon led to the arrest of several people and the discovery that the 'turnover' was down to one of the gang members who had fallen out with the rest.

The investigation took them to the Guadalhorce industrial estate, near the airport, where two members of the organisation, responsible for moving and storing the drug in the Malaga area, were identified.

In October, a van was spotted being driven towards La Línea with two cars escorting it. There it was loaded with 330 kilos of hashish and, on the return leg to Malaga, officers intercepted it and arrested several people.

One of the arrests wasn't that straightforward, as a support car managed to escape and was chased from the AP-7 motorway near Estepona as far as the centre of Malaga. Three patrol cars were damaged before the vehicle was finally stopped.

At the end of November, detectives found out that some of the gang were going to move by road one of the speedboats used to smuggle drugs by sea. According to police sources, it was spotted near Malaga inside a lorry owned by one the men that the drug gang leaders were using as cover and who had various properties registered in his name.

The trailer was stopped later, close to the Guadalquivir river in Seville province. Investigators waited for the moment when the criminals were handing over the boat, which was 12 metres long and had three high-powered engines, to make their move. Three people were arrested at the scene.

Finally, at the start of this month, five more of the gang were arrested, including its leaders. During this part of the operation, three house searches were carried out and 44,000 euros in cash was seized along with sea navigation equipment and eight wetsuits. There was even fresh food packed ready to be eaten at sea.

In total on this operation, 1,200 kilos of hashish were seized and 15 people were arrested of Spanish and North African origin for their alleged involvement.