Police smash Europe’s largest cocaine gang after £163m drugs haul found in banana boxes

Armed raids on luxury villas and yachts in Spain lead to arrests of ‘high value targets’

Spanish police find large quantities of cocaine hidden in boxes of bananas.
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Police have raided luxury villas and yachts in a crackdown on a Dutch cocaine gang after a £163 million ($214m) drug haul was found hidden in boxes of bananas.

Spain’s Guardia Civil has been conducting an ongoing investigation, called Operation Cetil, targeting the cocaine trade on the Costa del Sol for the last few years.

This culminated in armed raids in Spain and the Netherlands, uncovering a gang comprising arms dealers, murderers and former soldiers who were running Europe’s largest cocaine operation, officials say.

Cocaine bust in Malaga

Cocaine bust in Malaga

Eight Dutch citizens were arrested, including a number of “high value targets” who had been under police surveillance for over a year.

Over a number of months, the Guardia Civil uncovered millions of pounds of cocaine hidden inside boxes of bananas and sport bags, which arrived into Spanish ports from South America.

Despite the seizures, officials said the gang members continued operations while living luxury lifestyles on the Costa del Sol in southern Spain. They called the crime ring “the most active criminal organisation in the introduction of cocaine in Europe”.

“The Civil Guard, in the Cetil operation, has dismantled an important international criminal organisation, which is directly responsible for the introduction of more than 6,000 kilograms of cocaine from South America, through different parts of the European continent,” a representative said.

“Despite the continuous losses suffered, the criminal group continued to manage and order new shipments of cocaine, establishing its base of operations, for more direct management, between the provinces of Valencia and Malaga to introduce large consignments of narcotic drugs as a gateway to Europe.

“About 3,200 kilograms of this was seized by the Civil Guard in different maritime shipments made between March and June.

“The nucleus of this organisation was based in the Netherlands, but its members travelled and met in Spain to organise and plan the different shipments of narcotic substances from South America.”

“The continuous change of residence between ostentatious urbanisations of Marbella and Benalmádena and the use of luxurious boats, credited the criminal degree of its members in view of their high standard of living.”

Officials said nine raids in Valencia and Malaga and in the Dutch cities of Amsterdam, Utrecht, Rotterdam and Papendrech, which took place last week, resulted in the seizure of high-value jewels and €40,000 ($47,470) in cash.

It said a total of 6,000kg of cocaine was recovered, with an estimated street value of £163m ($214m), and “abundant” documentation found linking the group to “large-scale international drug trafficking”.

Last December, Dutch crime lord Ridouan Taghi was arrested in Dubai for his alleged role in Malaga’s cocaine trade. It is alleged he was behind a third of all cocaine coming into Europe.

It is not known if the latest arrests are linked to Taghi.

“Throughout the investigation, it was possible to corroborate that several of its members had a wide variety of antecedents for serious crimes such as arms trafficking, extortion and even homicide,” the Guardia Civil said.

“It was a perfectly hierarchical organisation with different roles for each one of its components, counting in its logistics and support apparatus with personnel with military training and experience in war missions, mainly in charge of counter-surveillance at its meetings.”

“This counter-surveillance was carried out by personnel with extensive knowledge of telecommunications devices, even developing their own encrypted messaging apps, which were not only used to communicate between the members of the criminal group, but also with the different South American cartels, suppliers of the narcotic, which all this together greatly slowed down the work of the agents.”

The international operation included Europe’s crime agency Europol, Dutch police and US Homeland Security Investigations and Border Protection.