Almost one tonne of cocaine and 160 kg of hashish have been seized in an international police operation led by the Spanish Civil Guard and coordinated by Europol. The huge consignment of cocaine was diluted in 13 tonnes of palm oil that had been shipped from Colombia, via Antwerp in Belgium, before being finally seized in Albania. In total, 22 members of an international criminal drugs network, some of them key "head" figures, have been arrested under this operation.
To enable the successful outcome of Operation Salonica, the Spanish authorities together with Europol worked with law enforcement authorities in seven countries: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Serbia. The operation has resulted in the dismantling of a criminal organisation made up of Spanish, Moroccan and Albanian citizens who were importing and distributing large consignments of Colombian cocaine and Moroccan hashish in Europe.
The investigation started in October 2010 when the Judicial Police Task Force of the Spanish Civil Guard of Tarragona learned of a criminal group dealing drugs on an international level. As a result of investigations, it was confirmed that the organisation had a hierarchical structure with the head leading, directing and coordinating several branches dealing in various narcotics. One of the branches was in charge of cultivating cannabis, another one dealt with the supply of hashish from different sources. Furthermore, the network worked with a drugs cartel to obtain cocaine on a large scale and had an infrastructure in several European countries for distributing the drugs.
At the beginning of the investigation in October 2010, 1 kg of cocaine and 29 kg of cannabis were seized, and the branch specialised in cultivating and distributing cannabis was identified and dismantled. Several cannabis greenhouses were also dismantled and six members of the organisation were arrested.
The organisation was subsequently found to be importing large amounts of Colombian cocaine into Europe, mainly via the Belgian port of Antwerp, by concealing the drugs in shipping containers.
During one of several meetings of the network members in Spain, which were being monitored by the Civil Guard, the leaders of the Spanish and Colombian organisations were witnessed completing the transport of cocaine concealed in a container allegedly loaded with palm oil. The container would be travelling from Colombia to Antwerp in Belgium, where the final details of the transaction would be arranged.
The Civil Guard of Tarragona, coordinated by Europol, supervised a comprehensive international monitoring operation to follow the truck through Europe and finally to Albania, where the drugs were intercepted. The criminal group in Albania, in charge of oil processing to extract the diluted cocaine, has also been dismantled.
Among the criminal activities carried out by the members of this organised crime group was the sending of consignments of hashish from Spain to Italy and the Netherlands by means of commercial road transport. Consignments were concealed in the cabs of trucks, establishing a consistent flow which supplied 2-3 bales at a time.
In March 2011, police arrested two professional truck drivers, who were members of the network, as well as seizing 67 and 99.5 kg of hashish. The result of these operations was the dismantling of another branch of the organisation, who provided the required logistics to move the consignments of hashish.
As well as providing key operational analysis, Europol played a significant role in coordinating the operation and facilitating the controlled delivery.
"This successful cooperation between the Spanish authorities and Europol has delivered a great blow to a major international criminal syndicate," said Rob Wainwright, Director of Europol. "The sophisticated methods of concealment and transportation used by these criminal networks, and the global nature of their activities, underlines the importance of effective police cooperation through Europol's unique capabilities."