'Super cartel' that controlled a third of Europe's cocaine trade taken down by Europol

Police in six countries have taken down a "super cartel" of drugs traffickers who controlled around one third of Europe's cocaine trade, the European Union crime agency has said.

Europol said 49 suspects were arrested during the investigation, with a series of raids taking place across Europe and the United Arab Emirates between 8 and 19 November.

The arrests were a culmination of parallel investigations in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UAE, it added.

It said forces involved in "Operation Desert Light" targeted both the "command-and-control centre and the logistical drugs trafficking infrastructure in Europe".

Over 30 tonnes of drugs were seized by officers.

"The scale of cocaine importation into Europe under the suspects' control and command was massive and over 30 tonnes of drugs were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigations," Europol said.

It said the suspects used encrypted communications to organise the shipments.

Some 14 suspects were arrested in the Netherlands in 2021, while 13 were arrested in Spain, 10 in Belgium and six in France.

Six 'high-value targets' arrested

Europol said six "high-value targets" were arrested in Dubai.

One of the suspects arrested in Dubai allegedly imported thousands of kilos of cocaine into the Netherlands in 2020 and 2021, Dutch authorities said.

The 37-year-old man, who has both Dutch and Moroccan nationality, is also being prosecuted for laundering large amounts of money and possession of firearms.

He was investigated after police cracked the encrypted messaging service Sky ECC.

A 40-year-old Dutch-Bosnian citizen was also arrested in Dubai after an investigation based on intercepted Sky ECC messages, Dutch police said. He is suspected of importing cocaine and raw materials for the production of amphetamines into Europe.

"This coordinated clampdown sends a strong message to criminals seeking sanctuary from law enforcement," Europol said.