Spain has seized 11 tonnes of cocaine imported by Albanian cartels and arrested 20 people in two separate raids highlighting the growing prominence of such gangs across Europe, police said Tuesday.
Packed into shipping containers, the drugs were dispatched from Colombia then passed through Ecuador before being seized by police when they docked at two separate ports in Spain, one in the northwestern city of Vigo and the other in Valencia in the east.
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“Within just one week, we managed to remove 11,000 kilograms of cocaine from the market,” Antonio Martinez Duarte, head of the police’s drugs and organised crime unit, told reporters in Madrid.
In Vigo, police seized 7.5 tonnes of cocaine concealed within a shipment of frozen tuna in what was the largest-ever seizure in Galicia — a region that has long served as the main gateway for drug shipments from Latin America heading for Europe.
Separately, police found another 3.4 tonnes of cocaine hidden inside double-bottomed compartments in the containers that reached Valencia.
Of those arrested, most were Albanians but also a Colombian, a Dominican national and several Spaniards, including a Galician businessman who let them use his fishing firm to transport the drugs and whose identity was not revealed.
“The two operations were not connected, the only thing linking them is we believe both are run by Albanian organisations,” said Martinez Duarte.
He said the organisations were part of the so-called “Balkan cartel” which has caught the attention of “all European police forces”.
“Albanian mafia groups have for some time been monopolising the shipment of drugs, not only in Europe but also in Latin America,” he said.
“These organisations have gone right to the point of origin, they control the shipment from start to finish,” he said.
Carlos Gomez, another drugs squad police official, said there had been a shift in the nature of the organisations involved in the purchasing, transportation and sale of Colombian cocaine within Europe.
“We’ve shifted from secretive, closed groups like the old Colombian and Mexican cartels that controlled the whole process to organisations which are much more open, decentralised and international,” he said.
“And they are also creating criminal cooperatives in which they also share resources.”