TheNational hamburger logo

Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 25 February 2021

Europe ripe for exploitation by cocaine gangs, report claims

Continent set to rival US in terms of cocaine market with gangs lured by high prices and low risks

Special Naval Forces members seize at least 1,400 kilograms of cocaine in Honduras. AFP
Special Naval Forces members seize at least 1,400 kilograms of cocaine in Honduras. AFP

Europe is the market of choice for the world’s cocaine smuggling gangs because tackling the multibillion-dollar trade has slipped down the list of government priorities during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report.

Cocaine production in Latin America has increased sharply since 2013 and has yet to hit its peak, the report by think tank Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime and investigation unit InSight Crime said. Shipments to Europe have reached a level to rival values entering the US mainland – despite the continent being separated from the main source countries by the Atlantic Ocean.

Cocaine production, 2003-2019. Source: ONDCP
Cocaine production, 2003-2019. Source: ONDCP

Gangs can secure more than double the wholesale price of cocaine in parts of Europe compared with the US. However, the EU has invested less in tackling the cartels to try to cut off the drugs at source, according to the report, entitled The Cocaine Pipeline to Europe.

The illegal drugs trade has been hit hard by the pandemic, with limits on travel and container traffic, but the report said gangs could increase operations swiftly. It said that much of the cocaine for Europe was passing through the continent en route to markets in Asia and Russia.

“From a business perspective, trafficking cocaine to Europe is a far more attractive prospect than targeting the US,” the report said. “If European cocaine consumption recovers quickly and new markets in eastern Europe are further developed, Europe could rival the US in terms of its cocaine problem.

“Indeed, if huge cocaine consignments controlled by European mafias transit the EU on their way to other markets in Asia, the challenges could surpass those faced by the US.”

Cocaine was traditionally shipped into Europe from the key production countries of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru via Spain, but the Mediterranean country has been displaced by Belgium and the Netherlands because of their large and efficient container port operations.

Cocaine trafficking routes to Europe. Source: InSight Crime Investigations
Cocaine trafficking routes to Europe. Source: InSight Crime Investigations

Crime gangs pay corrupt port staff to insert and remove drug consignments from shipping containers and bring them out of secure areas before they are handed over.

Other techniques emerged, with authorities in Spain seizing a “narco submarine” in 2019 carrying three tonnes of cocaine, and sailing boats becoming an increasingly popular way to move large consignments.

Cocaine trafficking reception in Europe. Source: InSight Crime Investigations 
Cocaine trafficking reception in Europe. Source: InSight Crime Investigations 

“Smarter traffickers have long preferred Europe, which has far more potential for growth than the more saturated US market, and higher profits,” the report said. “As Europe battles the coronavirus pandemic, an economic [downturn], Islamic terrorism, internal political tensions and irregular migration, the cocaine trade has slipped far down the list of government priorities.”

Updated: February 10, 2021 09:26 PM

Editor's Picks
NEWSLETTERS
Sign up to:

* Please select one

Most Read