The European Union's crime agency announced on Monday that law enforcement agencies from six different countries have joined forces to dismantle a "super cartel" of drug traffickers that controls approximately one-third of the cocaine trade in Europe.
Europol reported that 49 suspects have been arrested during the investigation, with the most recent series of raids occurring between November 8 and November 19 across Europe and the United Arab Emirates.
According to the agency, "Operation Desert Light" targeted both the "command-and-control center and the logistical infrastructure of drug trafficking in Europe."
During the investigations conducted in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UAE with the assistance of Europol, more than 30 tons of drugs were seized. Europol stated that the US Drug Enforcement Administration played a role in dismantling the organization, which was also involved in money laundering.
"The scale of cocaine imports into Europe under the suspects' command and control was enormous," Europol said, adding that the suspect's used encrypted communications to organize drug shipments.
In 2021, the Netherlands was the country with the highest number of suspects in custody, with 14. Europol reported that six "high-value targets" were captured in Dubai.
One of the suspects arrested in Dubai, according to Dutch authorities, imported thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the Netherlands in 2020 and 2021.
The 37-year-old man with Dutch and Moroccan citizenship is also being prosecuted for money laundering and possession of firearms. After investigators cracked the popular criminal encrypted messaging service Sky ECC, police began investigating him.
According to Dutch police, a 40-year-old Dutch-Bosnian citizen was also arrested in Dubai following an investigation based on intercepted Sky messages. He is suspected of importing cocaine and raw materials for amphetamine production into Europe.
In Europe, record amounts of cocaine are being seized. It has never been more accessible on the continent, with extremely high purity and low prices.
In 2020, more than 214 tons of cocaine were seized in the region, a six percent increase from the previous year. According to experts at the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, this number could reach 300 tons in 2022.