Spanish and Polish authorities seized four cannabis plantations with more than 3,000 plants and arrested 13 alleged members of a large-scale drug trafficking network that operated across the continent, Europol said in a statement released Wednesday.
According to Europol, the Polish wing of the network was associated with football hooligans that follow one of Krakow’s local teams.
“The criminal network bought, smuggled and sold large quantities of drugs,mainly hashish, marijuana and cocaine,” Europol said.
The group brought drugs in through Spain and moved them through the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Belgium and elsewhere. They also had ties with Albanian gangs who helped move the drugs into the United Kingdom, according to Europol.
At the time of their arrest, police believe the group was planning to transition into smuggling medical gear and PCR tests in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“Investigators detected that the criminal organization intended to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by acquiring a large quantity of medical supplies,” Europol said. “A warehouse was used by one of the leaders of the organization to store large amounts of surgical masks, quick tests for COVID-19 and swabs” for polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which the gang had smuggled from China.
The bust was the culmination of a three-year investigation during which 68 suspects were arrested. In addition, authorities seized 3.4 metric tons of cannabis, 1.4 tons of hashish and more than US$3.5 million in assets.
POLAND AND SPAIN TAKE DOWN INTERNATIONAL DRUG TRAFFICKING NETWORK ASSOCIATED WITH KRAKÓW FOOTBALL HOOLIGANS
A three-year-long investigation culminated last month in 13 arrests in Poland and Spain of the alleged members of a large drug trafficking network operating in multiple European countries. Supported by Europol and Eurojust, the Polish Police Central Bureau of Investigation (Centralne Biuro Śledecze Policji), Polish Border Guard (Straż Graniczna), Spanish National Police (Policía Nacional) and the British Regional Organised Crime Units joined forces during series of coordinated action days between May 2019 and September 2020 to bring down the gang.
The Polish criminal group was associated with football hooligans of one of Kraków’s sports clubs. The criminal network bought, smuggled and sold large quantities of drugs mainly hashish, marijuana and cocaine. The gang collaborated with an Albanian-speaking organised criminal group to smuggle cocaine to the United Kingdom. The international smuggling was carried out across borders by concealing drugs within transported goods or in hidden compartments of vehicles. The stashed drugs transited from Spain and to multiple countries including Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Poland and the UK.
GANG LEADERS ARRESTED ALONG WITH IMPORTANT SEIZURES
Since the beginning of the investigations, 68 suspects linked to the organised crime group have been arrested. During the coordinated operations that took place in September, Polish and Spanish law enforcement authorities arrested thirteen suspects of whom four were allegedly the kingpins of the organised crime group. One of the leaders resided in the Spanish province of Alicante and three other suspects were arrested as part of operations carried out in the three Polish provinces of Małopolska, Silesia and Lower Silesia.
Law enforcement seized:
- large quantities of drugs including 4 cannabis plantations (ca. 3 000 plants), 3.4 tonnes of cannabis, 1.4 tonnes of hashish, 280 kg of marijuana;
- various weapons including machetes, incapacitating gases, knives, 6 firearms and 11 stolen vehicles;
- electronic devices;
- over €3 million worth of assets in bank accounts and properties.
THE CRIMINAL NETWORK PLANNED TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Investigators detected that the criminal organisation intended to take advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic by acquiring a large quantity of medical supplies. A warehouse was used by one of the leaders of the organisation to store large amounts of surgical masks, quick tests for COVID-19 and swabs for PCR tests, which the gang had smuggled from China.
The effective cross-border cooperation to stop the organised criminal group from operating was coordinated in the framework of an operational task force set up two years ago with the support of Europol. Europol provided long-term analytical and operational support with experts deployed in Poland, Spain and the UK during the several action days that took place throughout the case investigation.