Report Tracks New Cocaine Routes into Europe

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A recent report highlights key changes in Europe’s drug market, including the diversification of cocaine routes and the growing importance of Eastern European groups in the drug trade.

The 2014 European Drug Report (pdf), published annually by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), analyzes the 28 countries of the European Union (EU), in addition to Norway and Turkey. The changes in regional cocaine seizure trends the study describes are a sign of the diversification of cocaine routes and changes in the region’s criminal dynamics.

In 2012, authorities reported the seizure of 71 tons of Latin American cocaine in Europe. This represents 9 tons more than the previous year, but significantly less than the record 120 tons found in 2006. This variation in the numbers, according to the EMCDDA, can be explained by the diversification of trafficking routes and methods of organized crime groups.

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The Iberian Peninsula has traditionally been the European trafficking route where the most cocaine is seized, and it saw the most significant decreases in the quantity of cocaine seized in the time period, down from 84 tons in 2006 to 25 in 2012. Meanwhile, France reported the seizure of 5.6 tons in 2012, around half of that seized in 2011, while Italy seized 5.3 tons, one fewer than in 2011.

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Seizures grew or remained stable in some other Western European countries. Belgium seized a record 19 tons of cocaine in 2012, 11 tons more than the previous year; the Netherlands seized 10 tons, the same quantity as the year before (see EMCDDA map, right).

According to the report, the concentration of security forces in Western Europe could help to explain the high quantity of cocaine seized in that region, in comparison with other EU countries that have historically lower consumption and seizure rates.

However, the quantity of cocaine seized in some Eastern European countries has been growing, in what the EMCDDA refers to as a “worrisome” trend. This includes Turkey, which seized nearly half a ton of cocaine in 2012, and Bulgaria, where cocaine seizures rose from 4 kilos in 2011 to 115 in 2012. Romania and Greece have also taken on an increasing role in the region’s cocaine trade, according to the EMCDDA, providing an indication of the recent diversification of cocaine trafficking routes in Europe.

InSight Crime Analysis

This diversification of drug routes into the region has been noted in recent years by European police agency Europol, which highlighted a similar trend in a 2013 report on EU drug markets.

Europol also highlighted the growing role of the Eastern European countries in the trade, and how groups there have benefited from changes in the traditional monolithic criminal structures of Colombian and Mexican cartels, which have divided into smaller factions that often become rivals. This fragmentation has been a decisive factor in the formation of alliances between the resulting new structures and Eastern European groups. 

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Additionally, the emergence of new markets has opened the way for organized crime groups in Europe and Africa to establish new alliances and increase their participation in the market, a dynamic that has benefited criminal groups from Eastern Europe and the Balkans, according to Europol.

In one example of this growing participation, in February this year French security forces seized 1.4 tons of cocaine from a Dakar rally truck, which had been brought from Chile by an international network run by Bulgarians. Meanwhile, a cocaine trafficking operation run by a Romanian, which sent drugs to Europe hidden among large quantities of pineapple, was dismantled in Costa Rica in May this year.

Another notable case is that of the most wanted drug trafficker from the Balkans, Darko Saric, who has been accused of leading a network that trafficked more than 5.7 tons of cocaine from Latin America to Europe and laundered an estimated $30 million. He was arrested by Serbian authorities in March this year, as the result of an investigation that began in 2009 following the interception of tons of cocaine in Uruguayan waters.

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Meanwhile, a report by the EU and the Police Community of the Americas (Ameripol) highlights the appearance of new trafficking routes, which illustrates the growing role of Eastern Europe in cocaine trafficking (see Ameripol map). Two routes in particular stand out: via the Balkans (including Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria, Italy) and the Suez Canal (round South Africa, through the canal and into Romania).

Other European countries that are not analyzed in the EMCDDA report also appear to be increasing their role in the drug trade. One example is Albania, which has just been granted the status of a candidate for EU membership and which, according to Europol, serves as a storage point for cocaine. This could indicate that the infrastructure already established for the existing traffic in heroin, human organs, cigarettes and people is now being use to traffic large quantities of cocaine.

The development of new cocaine routes into Europe, and the subsequent growth of organized crime in the countries involved in this trade, can be explained by several factors. These include the growing pressure of security forces at arrival points on the traditional cocaine trafficking routes, the fragmentation of traditional criminal structures, the association of new groups with pre-existing structures, and the opening of new cocaine markets in EU countries.

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