Argentine authorities have arrested the final suspect in an international drug trafficking network led by Serbians and Croatians that moved cocaine from Argentina to Eastern Europe, highlighting the rising importance of this route in the global cocaine trade.
At least 14 people were arrested over the course of an investigation labelled “Warrior of the Balkans.” Most recently, Buenos Aires resident Carlos Gallego was arrested in the capital city’s Palermo neighborhood. A judicial source told La Nacion that evidence indicated Gallego was in charge of the organization’s logistics.
In addition, two other people stand accused of working for the organization in Argentina, one Croatian was sentenced to 17 years in Uruguay, and 10 Serbians have been sentenced to an average of 10 years each in their home country as the result of an operation, which involved Argentine, Serbian and US officials.
The operation began in 2009 when Uruguayan police discovered over two tons of cocaine in a yacht near Montevideo on the La Plata River, which authorities linked to a Serbian man thought to head the organization. Gallego’s arrest came after officials later found 480 kilos of cocaine in an underground hideout below a Buenos Aires apartment that he had rented.
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The network’s connections were not limited to Serbia — the Serbian man connected to the 2009 Uruguayan drug seizure led an organization that moved cocaine from Colombia on to Argentina and then Uruguay before shipping it to the Balkans, from where it was moved on for sale in Italy and Slovenia.
While this is not yet a common drug trafficking route, it is also not a standalone case. A report released by the European Police Office (EUROPOL) in early 2013 noted that there has been a growth in cocaine trafficking through the Balkans and the Black Sea in Eastern Europe. The percentage of cocaine seized in this region continues to be small compared to other routes, but increased from 0.1 percent in 2001 to 1.8 percent in 2011, and authorities said the trend should be closely monitored.