Arrests Suggest Colombia Traffickers Tightening Grip on Spain’s Drug Trade

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Authorities in Colombia have arrested one of Spain’s “most wanted” suspects and their Spanish counterparts have dismantled a Colombian-led drug trafficking ring, further indication that Colombian groups are looking to deepen their influence in the European country. 

William Rafael Vargas Maestre, alias “Canoso,” was arrested at a high-end restaurant earlier this month in the Colombian city of Armenia in the department of Quindío, reported El Tiempo.

Vargas had been on the run since February 2016, when Spanish authorities dismantled a drug ring allegedly run by the Colombian native. He was considered one of Spain’s most wanted criminals at the time of his arrest, according to El Tiempo. 

Investigators say Vargas arrived in Spain in the early 2010s to coordinate drug shipments for several Colombian criminal organizations, including the Urabeños. He later teamed up with a chemist to impregnate coal with cocaine while it was still in Colombia, which was then disaggregated in special laboratories once it arrived in Spain. 

“In one month he had revenues of over 5 million euros,” or about $5.3 million, a member of Colombia’s investigative police force told El Tiempo. 

Spanish authorities have already begun the process to have Vargas extradited, the newspaper reported. 

Authorities in Spain also conducted a recent raid against a drug trafficking network that resulted in the arrests of 24 suspects, 13 of whom are Colombian, El Tiempo reported separately.  

The group, which was allegedly run by a Colombian known as “Tatis,” acted as a wholesale supplier for smaller drug trafficking outfits in the city of Zaragoza. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The recent arrests are yet another sign that Colombian drug trafficking organizations and their European satellites are strengthening their presence in Spain. While the country has long served as a launching pad for Colombian groups looking to expand into other parts of Europe, there have previously been reports of a potential incursion by Mexican cartels into the Spanish underworld.  

SEE ALSO: Coverage of European Organized Crime

The size and complexity of the Colombian operations in Spain appear to be increasing as well. In March, Spanish police captured two dozen members of a Colombian drug trafficking ring and seized over 2,400 kilograms of cocaine, in what was described as “one of the most important operations against cocaine trafficking that has been carried out in Spain in recent years.” 

There are two patterns that could account for the apparently growing influence of Colombian organized crime in Spain. The first is that Mexican drug trafficking groups have gained greater control of the US market, pushing Colombian organizations to exploit the lucrative European market. The second, more recent shift is the spike in Colombian cocaine production, which is likely enabling traffickers to introduce greater quantities of product into Spain. The effects of Colombia’s cocaine boom have already been felt in the United States and other parts of Latin America, so it would not come a surprise if it is having a similar impact in Europe.

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