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One of the detainees following his arrest by the National Police. National Police
Crime

Seven cocaine smugglers arrested on the Costa del Sol after drugs found in fruit containers from Ecuador

More than 800 officers took part in a police operation with 32 arrests in Ecuador and Spain; the criminal gang is accused of smuggling more than three tonnes of the drug into Europe

EP

Monday, 19 February 2024, 10:53

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National Police and the tax agency's customs surveillance service have dismantled, in collaboration with the National Police of Ecuador, an alleged criminal organisation dedicated to international cocaine trafficking, hidden in fruit containers, from Ecuador and money laundering using a complex business network. The operation led to arrest of 32 people; there were eight detainees in Andalucía among 13 in Spain.

More than 800 officers worked on the operation, with 3,210 kilos of cocaine seized internationally, between 2019 and 2022, of which 200 kilos were smuggled into Spain through the port of Algeciras, as reported by the National Police on Friday. 16 February.

Seven arrests were made in Malaga province, and one in Cadiz, as well as two others in Barcelona, two in Madrid and one in Valencia. There are 18 other detainees in Ecuador and one in the United Kingdom. Police searches were carried out in four Andalusian provinces: Cadiz, Granada, Malaga, and Seville.

The investigation, funded by the European Commission, remains open and began in 2020 when money laundering activities were detected in companies controlled by an Italian businessman based in Marbella. These exported bananas from Ecuador to Europe. Others involved sports centres in the Costa del Sol town, shopping centres in Granada and hospitality and nightlife businesses.

Anti-drug unit agents and police experts in the fight against money laundering discovered links between the businessman, of Argentine origin, and drug trafficking by sea.

Given the complexity of the investigation, international cooperation was coordinated at the judicial level by the High Court's special anti-drug prosecutor's office and at the police level by Europol. The collaboration of Spanish consuls in Ecuador and Russia, and attachés in Albania, Belgium, the Netherlands and Turkey were also requested.

This criminal organisation was allegedly run by an Albanian citizen based in Ecuador and by the Italian businessman residing in Marbella, who ran fruit producing and exporting companies from Ecuador to the world, with a turnover of hundreds of containers exported annually. The pair bought real estate in exclusive places in Marbella, Guayaquil and Dubai, and opened new nightlife and sports businesses.

To hide cocaine in fruit containers, they had the collaboration of personnel in ports or businessmen dedicated to importing fruit, who simulated a licit trade relationship to introduce drugs into their countries.

The network used different methods to move cocaine to Europe and it was in 2020, after the seizure of more than 1,100 kilos of cocaine in one of its containers in the Netherlands, that they began to reduce the size of the shipments to between 15 and 40 kilos of the drug.

According to the National Police, the well-structured organisation based in Marbella provided the logistics of its export companies for the shipments and coordinated the money laundering, for which it had a manager who put cash into legal circulation.

Officers detected deliveries of money in Barcelona between Ecuadorian citizens and businesses controlled by the Marbella-based businessman. In 2021, a million euros was found hidden inside a vehicle.

The researchers' analysis shows 36 million US dollars were laundered in Ecuador and 12 million euros in Spain. In the Spanish raids, almost 500,000 euros in cash was seized, as well as a pistol, 12 high-end vehicles, and luxury watches.

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