One of the largest ever interceptions of cocaine to take place on European soil has led to the arrest in Europe and Asia of 16 people, the seizure of more than one ton of cocaine, two million euros in cash and more than 1 million euros worth of luxury goods.
Operation Familia, coordinated by Europol and the US Drug Enforcement Administration, with support from Frontex, targeted an a vast trafficking network, led by a Balkan mafia organisation, that used private planes to transport the drugs from South America to Europe.
The operation mobilized investigative agencies from 14 countries around the world, according to a press release from Europol. They were put on the trail of the network by the Croatian authorities, which began their investigation into suspicious flights in late 2017.
Thirteen other countries, including France Czech Republic, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Belgium, Italy, Hong Kong, Macao, Malaysia, Uruguay, Paraguay and Costa Rica, joined the case and by May 2019, their investigations made it possible to obtain information on a major delivery due to arrive in Europe by private plane from Uruguay.
The plane suspected of transporting the drugs stopped in Nice on May 16, before landing in Basel-Mulhouse airport near the French border with Switzerland and Germany. Following requests for mutual assistance from the European Union, French police put the two airports under surveillance. The passengers on board were suspected of transporting the cocaine in their luggage.
On the evening of 16 May, the Swiss police, in close collaboration with the Strasbourg research section, arrested three people in Basel, including one of the heads of the criminal organization. More than 600 kg of 90% pure cocaine are also seized.
In total, Operation Familia resulted in the arrest of 16 people (11 in Europe and 5 in Asia) involved in this large-scale cocaine trafficking, and the seizure of more than one tonne of cocaine (603 kg in Switzerland and 421 kg in Hong Kong), 2 million euros in cash and more than 1 million euros in luxury goods, including watches and vehicles.