Twenty-five suspected members of an Albanian drug trafficking gang operating from Belgium have been arrested in a coordinated police action in five countries, according to a Europol statement.
Fourteen searches were carried out at locations in Antwerp, Brussels and Charleroi in Belgium resulting in the arrest of nine people.
Those involved are suspected of smuggling drugs between South America and the Belgian port city of Antwerp in sea containers. Once they had arrived in Europe the drugs were transported to their national markets in vehicles with sophisticated hidden compartments.
The operation, codenamed Baccarat, which was carried out in collaboration with the European police agency Europol, also involved the Spanish, German, French and Dutch police. In total, more than 600 police officers participated, including 154 in Belgium.
Sixteen people were arrested in Germany, Spain, France and the Netherlands. During police searches, one weapon, around 30,000 euros in cash and 6 kilos of cannabis were found, as were 7 plantations containing a total of around 2,500 plants.
The main suspect was arrested in the Antwerp district of Berchem. A firearm and 55,000 euros in cash were discovered, police sources said.
The “Baccarat” operation began when an investigation into possible drug dealing in an apartment in the Deurne district of Antwerp gradually widened as it was revealed that an Albanian gang, with activities throughout Europe, was involved.
According to Europol, the gang is a hierarchically structured, clan-based organisation with some of its members having a long history of drug trafficking in different countries.
Listening in on wiretapped conversations, investigators learned about the possible importation of cocaine from South America, but no cocaine was seized at this stage of the investigation.
The organisation was led from Antwerp, but its criminal activities were mainly developed in the rest of Europe, in particular Germany, France and Spain. With the help of Europol, the Spanish Guardia Civil, the Dutch Police, various German police forces and the French National Police were contacted.
The investigation forms part of an initiative led by the Italian Direzione Investigativa Antimafia (DIA) to tackle mafia-type organised crime groups active in Europe, Europol said.