On 26 March, a highly organised drug trafficking network was brought to trial in Sweden. Eight members of the criminal group are currently facing criminal charges for trafficking multi-ton shipments of high-quality cocaine from South America to Europe. Another trial on money laundering related to drug trafficking will start in Spain after a final verdict has been delivered in Sweden.
These indictments are the result of more than three years of excellent joint international efforts at law enforcement and judicial level in Sweden, Spain and France, with continuous support from Eurojust and Europol and the assistance of other Member States (the Netherlands, Malta, UK, Estonia, Cyprus and Germany), as well as several third States (Colombia, USA, Switzerland, Venezuela, Israel and Andorra).
The investigation began in Sweden in December 2008. The international dimensions of the case soon became clear, requiring continued coordination. During a coordination meeting held at Eurojust in May 2009, a Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was established for this purpose, with the JIT Funding Project providing a portion of its operating expenses. The JIT legal framework enabled a prompt exchange of information to take place without the need for lengthy rogatory procedures.
As a first success for the JIT, 1,4 tons of cocaine were seized on a 15-metre sailboat bound for Europe. The boat was boarded by the French authorities in the Caribbean and was brought to Martinique in June 2010. The only person on board, a 56-year-old Swede, was arrested. The investigations continued, focusing on the main criminal figure and his accomplices, who were still at large. The investigators have linked the suspected criminals to a sophisticated network of companies created to facilitate money laundering, money transfers and property acquisitions.
More than 30 people have been arrested throughout the world. The suspected leader of the network of mainly Swedish criminals, a 39-year-old Swede with a long and serious criminal record, was arrested southwest of Bogota and deported from Colombia to Sweden in December 2010. A few days later, in early January 2011, five other suspects were arrested and several house searches were conducted in Sweden and Spain. The suspected leader received assistance in laundering the illicit profits from a relative residing in Switzerland.
The Spanish authorities froze several bank accounts as part of the investigations into money laundering, and approximately € 6 million was seized in five different countries, linked to reinvestments in real estate, a discotheque and other legal businesses, luxury vehicles and ships. The network appears to have invested and spent at least € 12 million between 2007 and 2010.
The total amount of seized cocaine had a street value of between €416 and €468 million.
Europol provided operational analysis and facilitated the identification of key players in the organised crime group in Colombia, USA, France, French West Indies, Spain and Sweden. Additionally, they provided expertise and investigative support to the financial part of the case by facilitating the recovery of the assets obtained by the illicit activities of the organised crime group.
Eurojust facilitated the exchange of information and coordination of investigations. Eurojust hosted 13 coordination/JIT meetings to decide where the prosecutions should take place and to solve possible conflicts of jurisdiction and to coordinate the division of tasks among the various jurisdictions involved. Eurojust also provided expertise in relation to the maritime interception.
Karin Bergstrand, Senior Public Prosecutor from the International Public Prosecution Office in Stockholm, stated: "This extremely complicated case could not have been handled without the assistance of Eurojust. Europol has also played a very important role by analysing large amounts of data.”
Josè Villodre Lòpez, Judge of the Juzgado mixto no 7 in Barcelona, commented: “My colleague, Ana Bélen Gil Munoz, senior prosecutor, and I, under the umbrella of Eurojust and Europol, have for four years been chairing a judicial police team between Catalonia LWB and National Police. Eurojust and Europol created a genuine spirit of teamwork within the police units and the judicial authorities, which has been the key to the success of this operation. My experience as the first JIT leader at regional level in Spain has been very rewarding.”
Ola Laurell, National Member for Sweden at Eurojust, said: “International cooperation is essential when combating organised crime and tracing the assets of crime. Drug trafficking on this scale generates enormous amounts of money. If you don't find the money, you cannot stop the criminal organisation, even if the criminals are put in jail.”
Michel Quillé, Deputy Director of Europol, said: “The successful cooperation between Europol and our European law enforcement partners has delivered a major blow to this network of drug traffickers and demonstrates how very effective a joint operation can be in bringing such serious organised criminals to justice. Europol will continue to proactively support such investigations with our intelligence and technical capabilities.”
For more information:
Mr Joannes THUY
Spokesperson, Head of Press & PR
Tel: +31 70 412 5508
Medialine: Tel: +31 70 302 5001