They called themselves the southern cartel and their counterparts in Morocco were the Tangiers cartel. Together, they managed to control ports by creating a network of corrupt officers who they paid to turn a blind eye or give misleading information to the authorities, and brought huge quantities of cocaine and hashish into Spain.
A joint operation by the National Police and Guardia Civil has broken up this gang, which is considered the biggest to operate in the Campo de Gibraltar area, and for the sheer numbers involved this has probably been the biggest blow to drug trafficking in the country, according to sources.
It was unusual in several ways. For example, the gang had two clandestine factories – one of them in Marbella – where some of the hashish was crushed before being transported. This way, they managed to move up to 20 tonnes of the drug in one single journey
The investigation began in February last year, when 13 tonnes of hashish were seized after the gang had hidden them among consignments of tomatoes and fruits.
The authorities discovered that the southern cartel had been responsible for bringing 16 tonnes of cocaine from South America in ships’ cargos; nine tonnes were seized in April 2018, and was at that time the biggest haul to have been found in Europe.
The group had bribed police, customs officers and other officials in Tangiers port in Morocco and Algeciras port in Cadiz province, and this enabled them to bring enormous quantities of hashish into Spain inside lorries. It was then unloaded in Malaga province and the distribution process would begin.
Sometimes the hashish was placed in sacks and driven to its destination, and at other times it was crushed, placed into containers with false bases and moved more discreetly.
As a result of the police operation in mid-May, 61 people have been detained and seven international arrest orders issued for people who could not be found.
In total, 83,683 kilos of hashish have been seized, along with 9,768 kilos of cocaine and 28 kilos of marijuana. The same gang is also accused of having brought another 67,200 kilos of hashish and 6,200 kilos of cocaine into the country.
A search of 34 homes revealed five firearms, nine lorries, seven refrigerated trailers, 27 cars, 18 luxury watches, a diamond, ten precious stones and numerous works of art which are now being authenticated.
In addition, 26 properties worth more than three million euros and 17 motor vehicles valued at over 400,000 euros have been embargoed. The financial loss suffered by the organisation as a result of this operation is estimated to be more than one billion euros.