Officers from Spain’s Policia Nacional have arrested 24 people in connection with a drug smuggling ring that trafficked marijuana from Alicante, Malaga and Barcelona to the British city of Liverpool.
Working with their counterparts at the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) and Merseyside Police, detectives held 21 suspects in Spain who are alleged to have been involved in a plot to smuggle huge quantities of drugs hidden among packs of marble tiles on Liverpool-bound trucks.
Merseyside Police detained a further three people. None of the suspects have been identified.
Armed raids carried out as part of the operation resulted in the closure of four large-scale marijuana factories, which police said contained thousands of plants.
Footage of the raids was uploaded to Policia Nacional’s twitter feed.
The gang is said to have been headed up by a pair of Merseyside brothers, whose son-in-law acted as a lieutenant, directing junior members of the ring.
Police discovered a shoe box stuffed with €120,000 in cash when they arrested the gang’s ringleaders.
Documentation found at one of the addresses raided as part of the operation indicated the network had been involved with the smuggling of at least 400kgs of marijuana in a relatively short period of time.
Spanish members of the network are said to have been living lives of luxury, staying in luxury villas and driving high-end sports cars.
In a statement, police said the majority of the gang’s members were British nationals aged between 22 and 25, all of whom appeared to be living well beyond the means of any legitimate employment.
The joint investigation into the gang’s activities was triggered after a homemade explosive device detonated at a property in Liverpool, leading to the discovery of 150kgs of cocaine.
The Liverpool Echo reports a Policia Nacional spokesperson as saying: “National Police officers, in collaboration with Merseyside Police and co-ordinated by the NCA, have dismantled a group of drug traffickers who have been sending trucks from Spain to the United Kingdom with marijuana hidden in packages that supposedly contained marble tiles.
“Not to raise suspicions, [they] increased the weight of boxes used for transporting the drug with bricks.
“Twenty-four people have been arrested in connection with the organisation – 21 in Spain and three in England – and four marijuana plantations with more than 1,600 plants have been dismantled and a fifth has been dismantled.
“In addition they have seized an industrial packing machine located in a chalet and 58kgs of buds.”
British organised criminals have long used Spanish towns and cities as boltholes where they can hide from UK law enforcement agencies, while also taking advantage of the country’s status as a major trafficking hub for a range of drugs.
Paul Monk was arrested by Spanish police in April 2015 during a raid on his four-bedroom property near Benidorm.