A cell within the notorious Montenegrin drug trafficking group, the Skaljari clan, has been arrested on Spain’s Canary Islands. During the arrests, Spanish authorities reportedly seized 400 kilograms of cocaine, 12 encrypted cell phones, and nearly 400,000 euros (US$500,000) in cash.
The case has exposed how Balkan cocaine traffickers may be using Latin American connections to reposition themselves within the European black market.
Officials say the group received large shipments of cocaine from overseas, stored them in consolidation points, then distributed products to local criminal groups for distribution or street-level retail.
As Latin American and European authorities struggle to contain the spread of the Covid-19 disease- and the economic fallout from the pandemic- cocaine traffickers appear to be taking advantage of new weaknesses in government oversight.
The number of Balkan criminal emissaries travelling to South America to broker cocaine shipments has reportedly increased in recent years, with groups from Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania looking to connect directly with local producers and traffickers to ensure the lowest wholesale prices possible.
According to a joint investigation by InSight Crime and the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, these connections have turned Balkan drug trafficking gangs into some of the main beneficiaries of South America’s ongoing cocaine boom.
“For 2019 and the first months of 2020, the thinking was that the flow of drugs entering or passing through Europe was between 500 and 800 tonnes,” a senior European police official told investigators off the record,”We base these numbers in part on the notion that we are seizing 10% to 20% of the total.”
Much of the cocaine shipments arriving in Europe are in transit to other parts of the world. Traffickers reportedly move large quantities of cocaine from the more established western Europe markets toward Russia and Asia, and every country in between.
Cocaine trafficking to Europe remains a highly attractive prospect compared to US markets. A kilogram of cocaine in the US is worth up to US$28,000 wholesale, while that same kilogram is worth, on average, US$40,000 on the European market. In some parts of Europe, one kilogram of cocaine can fetch up to US$80,000. Moreover, the risk of interception, extradition and seizure of assets is much lower compared to the US.
Criminal groups can also profit from micro trafficking, using smaller Balkan affiliates who are focused on one city or country. The now-dismantled “Kompania Bello” syndicate did just this, with the group’s leader operating from an Ecuadorian prison cell.