Today Europol has arrested 13 members of the Balkan Cartel inside of Serbia. They worked in cooperation with the Belgium and Netherland police forces. It has been determined that the cartel is responsible for at least 6 tons of cocaine being smuggled into Europe over the last few years.
Europol is the European Unions police force for its member states. Europol handles everything from drug trafficking to cybercrime and is always working with other agencies outside of the EU to track potential criminal activity that may come into the EU. Over the last few years, Europol has been responsible for the arrests of multiple cartel members. In November of last year, Europol headed efforts to takedown the traffic control center of a cartel which resulted in 49 arrests, including many “key” figures of the cartel.
Even with these arrests, the drug trade in Europe is still trying to expand, especially in countries like the Netherlands where it is a key drop off point before it expands across Europe. Most of these drugs start in South America, generally (but not always) in Columbia. From there it will undergo distribution to one of the multiple points of entry on the European continent. Some of the most used routes are Spain, Netherlands, and Italy.
The interaction with other agencies generally gives Europol time to prepare for large shipments and potentially arrest not only the leaders, but the buyers/distributors as well. Todays arrest help to dismantle one of the more prominent cartels, but they are one of many and Europol is constantly having to change tactics to intercept drug traffic and enforce the law.
This operation specifically was conducted with the Serbian Ministry of the Interior as well as other cooperating EU agencies. Serbia lies on the route commonly used to smuggle drugs into Europe and Europol had over 20 suspected locations that were searched. These included safe houses and members residences.
Two of the arrested members are assumed to be organizers of the group handling the money, routes, and contact points for the group while the other eleven were suspected of being “cell leaders” within the cartel. Large amounts of cocaine, money, and weaponry were seized along with information about other potential areas of interest for the drug trade.
Europol made these arrests in connection with earlier seizures of cartel property in 2020. The 2020 arrest occurred in the Netherlands and landed most of the leadership behind bars, some of which are still held in Serbian prisons.