Europol yesterday announced it has coordinated an operation that led to the seizure of 170kgs of cocaine in Belgium.
Customs officials discovered the drugs – which were stashed inside a container transporting frozen vegetables from Peru – at the Port of Antwerp at the end of last month.
The seizure was made after police in Spain investigating an organised crime group involved in smuggling cocaine from South America to Europe obtained intelligence that the shipment would be passing through the port.
This information was passed to authorities in Belgium via the EU’s law enforcement agency, allowing investigators to intercept the drugs before they could pass through customs.
“Europol supported this investigation by facilitating exchange of operational information between the law enforcement agencies of both countries and cross checking intelligence submitted by the Spanish authorities against Europol databases,” Europol said in a statement.
In December, the UK’s Sunday People newspaper reported that Antwerp has become a major hub for criminals looking to smuggle drugs onwards into Britain. The paper claimed drug traffickers are taking advantage of understaffing at the Port of Antwerp, smuggling tonnes of cocaine from South America hidden in shipping containers.
Once the drugs have been smuggled into the Belgian city by Colombian cartels, Albanian gangsters facilitate their onward travel to the UK, a source at the port told the People.
“The cartels have discovered it is relatively easy to use Antwerp as a gateway to Britain,” the source said.
“Port staff do their best and have uncovered a number of plots. But they don’t have the resources to stop it all. They’re losing the war and can only take heart from winning a few small battles.”
The People published its revelations days after a study revealed that Antwerp had overtaken London as the “cocaine capital” of Europe. A report issued in December by the EU’s European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) found that analysis of cocaine traces in over 50 European city sewers indicated the drug is consumed more often in the Belgian city than the UK capital.
“Traces of cocaine in wastewater indicate that cocaine use is highest in western and southern European cities, particularly in cities in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK,” the report said.
“The analysis points to very low to negligible cocaine use in the majority of eastern European cities.”
According to the report, cocaine traces in Antwerp’s sewers suggested that one gram of the drug is used daily for every 1,000 people. In London, the concentration was 894.9mg per 1,000 people a day. Antwerp also beat the UK capital on amphetamine consumption.