Police in Serbia have detained 30 suspects, including the leader of a football fan club, on suspicion of producing and trafficking huge quantities of drugs worth $20 million (€17.92 million), the country’s Interior Ministry has said.
In a joint operation with German officers, Serbian detectives seized 303 kg of cocaine, 106 kg of hashish and 96 kg of marijuana. They also discovered large sums of cash and weapons as part of their investigation, which reportedly lasted some 13 months.
The illegal substances were removed from seven drug-processing plants in both Serbia and Germany, according to Serbian Interior Minsiter Nebojsa Stefanovic, who said the operation “dealt a huge blow to the organised drug cartels”.
The German Federal Criminal Police Office said two people were held in Germany in connection with the investigation, and one in Croatia. The German arrests took place in the city of Essen, where scores of police officers were deployed to search 25 locations, including a number of cannabis factories.
Stefanovic, who vowed that Serbia will continue to work with Germany to defeat corruption and organised crime, told reporters that the head of the drugs gang was the leader of a Belgrade football fan club, identified by local media as 33-year-old Jevto Jevtic, from FK Zemun football club supporter’s group the Taurunum Boys.
Serbia, along with the rest of the Balkans, has long been a key transit hub for drugs ultimately destined for Western Europe. Since the end of the 1990s Balkan crisis, organised crime has flourished in the region, with the emergence of powerful mafia-style groups involved in drug smuggling, arms trafficking and protection rackets, among a number of other illegal activities.
In the face of increased organised criminality, cooperation between the Serbian authorities and foreign police has led to improvements in the way the problem is tackled since the fall of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.
Back in 2014, Balkan “Cocaine King” Darko Saric was arrested and charged with smuggling 5.7 tonnes of the drug from South America to Europe, and laundering tens of millions dollars. At Serbia’s Court for Organised Crime last year, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison, while 21 members of his gang were also jailed.
Earlier this year, Europol and police from Spain and the Czech Republic disrupted the activities of a major Serbian organised crime group when they arrested 25 of its members in various countries for a variety of offences including murder and cannabis trafficking. The operation began after Serbian officers warned their Spanish counterparts that violent gang members from the town of Novi Sad had moved to Spain in a bid to further their criminal activities.