Portugal Busts Colombian ‘Drug Trafficking Network’

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Portuguese authorities arrested five men and seized over 300 kilograms of cocaine believed to belong to a Colombian trafficking network, pointing to the continued control of Colombian groups over international routes.

Officials from Portugal’s anti-narcotics police unit UNCTE arrested Colombian national Macias Nieto and seized 340 kilograms of cocaine in Lisbon, reported EFE. Four of Nieto’s associates — one Colombian and three Spaniards — were also arrested.

According to the UNCTE chief inspector, Vitor Ananias, the five detainees are thought to have connections to a Colombian international drug trafficking organization and to be responsible for shipping narcotics from South America to Portugal and Spain. They had allegedly been in Lisbon for close to a month.

The operation was carried out in collaboration with Interpol and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

InSight Crime Analysis

If the police are correct, and the trafficking organization was part of a larger Colombian network, it would represent something of a rarity. Since the breakup of the larger Medellin and Cali Cartels in the early 1990s, Colombian drug trafficking organizations have ceded much of their control over international routes to their Mexican counterparts, choosing instead to assume the role of wholesaler, as the DEA’s Andean regional director, Jay Bergman, told InSight Crime. Pressure from US and Colombian authorities helped bring about this transition, and some analysts point to a formalized agreement, with Colombian groups agreeing to adopt a behind-the-scenes role and let Mexicans take over their networks.

However, there is evidence that some Colombian groups still have control of international operations, with reports emerging in recent years of a Rastrojos-run operation in Spain.

Portugal’s importance as an entry point for cocaine heading to the European market has been in decline in recent years. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2011 paper, “The Transatlantic Cocaine Market,” the country’s cocaine seizures fell from 34.5 tons in 2006 (the second highest in Western Europe), to just 2.7 tons in 2009.

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