Tuesday, 17 January 2023, 15:40
Spain’s National Police force, in a joint operation with the Guardia Civil and the French OFAST, coordinated by EUROJUST, have smashed a criminal organisation which was smuggling cocaine from the Caribbean to Europe in sailing boats and had headquarters in Marbella and Paris.
Once they reached Europe, the drugs were distributed in Cadiz and Malaga, as well as to the Ile de France, which includes the French capital and its metropolitan region.
The organisation had two arms: the French branch, which was in charge of distributing the drugs; and the Spanish branch, which was in charge of contacts with the organisations supplying the drugs, based in Colombia and Venezuela.
The investigation began in the summer of 2021 when the Guardia Civil became aware of the arrival of a sailing boat in El Puerto de Santa María in Cádiz, captained by a French citizen.
The investigations led officers to connect the individual with a second French citizen who was being investigated by the National Police for his alleged connections with international drug trafficking. The Spanish agents then requested information from the French police authorities through the OFAST (Anti-Narcotics Office) to get further information about the people under investigation.
The first of the two suspects was already known in France for drug trafficking activity and was rescued in 2010 in the boat he was sailing in the English Channel sank and which was believed to be carrying cocaine. The other individual had no previous police record, although one of his brothers is closely linked to cocaine trafficking in Paris.
As the investigation progressed, the agents observed numerous meetings between the two individuals, both in Spain and in France and a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was set up between the two countries.
In autumn 2022, investigators observed that the organisation was making more preparations for what appeared to be an ongoing operation. They noticed that the main suspect was making more trips to meet Venezuelan associates in different parts of Spain and travelled continuously to Paris. There, he and his brother appeared to be depositing and removing a number of packages. At the Paris based suspect bought, repaired and fitted out a sailing boat in Martinique.
It was in November that the latter travelled to Martinique where, after staying for a few days, he set sail alone. Although he had declared France as his final destination, the boat did not head for Europe but instead sailed south and stayed for a few hours north of the area of Margarita Island off Venezuela. It then altered course and began the voyage to Europe via the Azores.
Despite the poor sea conditions, at the end of December last year, the Spanish Navy was called in, together with inspectors from police forces and OFAST, who intercepted and boarded the boat to the west of the Azores. They found 25 bales of cocaine inside the boat, weighing a total of 740 kilos. Two people were also arrested: one of the original suspects and a Venezuelan man who had boarded the boat with the cocaine on Margarita Island.
Following the seizure of the cocaine, the agents extended the operation on land with arrests and searches carried out in Spain and France. In Spain, they seized 52,450 euros in cash, two firearms (located in a home in Salamanca), two satellite routers for boats, vehicles and multiple mobile phones, some of them with encrypted communication systems.
The flat in the centre of Paris where the two brothers had been seen turned out to be a narcotics warehouse where another 345 kilos of cocaine and a firearm were found. In addition, 745,500 euros were seized in other searches.
The operation ended with the arrest of 15 people, including the leaders of the organisation, those in charge of transport, distributors of the drug in France, financiers, other collaborators and representatives of the organisation in Spain.
More than 1,000 kilos of cocaine, 797,950 euros in cash, two sailing boats, seven vehicles and three firearms were seized, among other items and teh operation has led to the criminal organisation being completely dismantled.
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