‘Zetas’ Network Trafficked Drugs from Nicaragua to Europe, Russia

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Authorities in Nicaragua and Russia announced they had broken up a trafficking ring headed by a member of the Zetas, in what could be a sign the Mexican drug trafficking organization is looking to open up new routes to Europe and beyond.

The director of the Russian Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), Victor Ivanov, announced that Russia had provided logistical support in an operation targeting a criminal network that moved cocaine to Europe and Russia. According to Ivanov, the network was headed by Martin Flores, a Mexican working for the Zetas cartel, which he said had established close contacts with European criminal groups.

By the end of the operation, Nicaraguan police had arrested a total of 26 people in connection with the trafficking ring and seized guns, weapons and assets, reported El Nuevo Diario.

In early 2012, Nicaragua and Russia signed a bilateral security accord, in which the two countries agreed to exchange technical assistance and information and carry out coordinated operations against organized crime.

InSight Crime Analysis

Approximately 80 percent of cocaine shipped to the United States passes through Nicaragua, according to US estimates. However, the country is not a major transit point for drugs shipped to Europe, which more commonly pass through South American countries, especially Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela.

Europe is not believed to be a stronghold for Mexican cartels, with Colombian groups the only major American criminal players known to have established a long-term presence on the continent. However, the most recent report from European police force Europol highlighted the growing influence of Mexican cartels in Europe. The Zetas’ rivals in the Sinaloa Cartel are more frequently touted as the group making inroads into the continent.

These latest arrests suggest the Zetas may also be trying to build connections with criminal groups outside the Americas and establish a foothold in an increasingly important market. If this is the case, then it may prove easier for the Zetas to set up trafficking routes from countries such as Nicaragua, which is closer to their principal sphere of influence, rather than trying to muscle in on established routes in unfamiliar countries south of the Darien Gap.

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