In the early hours of the morning (27 November), more than a thousand police officers with the support of Europol carried out co-ordinated raids against the members of this highly professional criminal syndicate. Some 180 house searches were executed, resulting in the arrest of 45 suspects.
The investigation uncovered that this drug trafficking network was responsible for the annual importation of at least 45 tonnes of cocaine into the main European seaports, with profits exceeding €100 million over the course of 6 months.
This international sting, led by the Portuguese, Belgian and Brazilian authorities, was carried out simultaneously by agencies from three different continents, with coordination efforts facilitated by Europol:
- Europe: Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária), Belgian Federal Judicial Police (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie, Police Judiciaire Fédérale), Spanish National Police (Policia Nacional), Dutch Police (Politie) and the Romanian Police (Poliția Română)
- South America: Brazilian Federal Police (Policia Federal)
- Middle East: Dubai Police Force and Dubai State Security
Results in brief
- 45 arrests in Brazil (38), Belgium (4), Spain (1) and Dubai (2).
- 179 house searches.
- Over €12m in cash seized in Portugal, €300,000 in cash seized in Belgium and over R$1m and US$169,000 in cash seized in Brazil.
- 70 luxury vehicles seized in Brazil, Belgium and Spain and 37 aircrafts seized in Brazil.
- 163 houses seized in Brazil worth in excess of R$132m, two houses seized in Spain worth €4m, and two apartments seized in Portugal worth €2.5m.
- Financial assets of 10 individuals frozen in Spain.
In the framework of intelligence activities underway with its operational counterparts, Europol developed reliable intelligence concerning the international drug trafficking and money laundering activities of a Brazilian organized crime network operating in several EU countries.
The criminal syndicate had direct contact with drug cartels in Brazil and other South American source countries who were responsible for the preparation and the shipments of cocaine in maritime containers bound to major European seaports.
The scale of cocaine importation from Brazil to Europe under their control and command is massive and over 52 tonnes of cocaine were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigation.
In April 2020, Europol brought together the involved countries who have since been working closely together to establish a joint strategy to bring down the whole network. The main targets were identified on either sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Since then, Europol has provided continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators. During the action day, a total of 8 of its officers were deployed on-the-ground in Portugal, Belgium and Brazil to assist there the national authorities, ensuring swift analysis of new data as it was being collected during the action and adjusting the strategy as required.
Commenting on this operation, Europol’s Deputy Director Wil van Gemert said: "This operation highlights the complex structure and vast reach of Brazilian organized crime groups in Europe. The scale of the challenge faced today by police worldwide calls for a coordinated approach to tackle the drug trade across continents. The commitment of our partner countries to work via Europol underpinned the success of this operation and serves as a continued global call to action."
Europol supports Spain and US in dismantling money-laundering organized crime
Europol have supported the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and the US Drug Enforcement Administration to dismantle an organized crime group laundering money for major South American cartels.
The criminal network was involved in debt collection and laundering of money coming from drug trafficking. They also provided so-called hitman services involving contract killings, threats and violence targeted at other criminal groups. The criminal organisation used the network of hitmen to collect payments across Spain from other criminal groups buying drugs from the South American cartels to redistribute them locally. The investigation identified also a number of ‘front men’ acquiring luxurious goods for the lifestyles of the group’s leaders. This was only a small part of a large money-laundering scheme that traded high-end cars and used smurfing techniques to place criminal profits into the financial system.
- 4 suspects arrested (Colombian, Spanish and Venezuelan nationals)
- 7 suspects charged with criminal offences
- 1 company charged with a criminal offence
- 3 home searches in Spain
- Seizures of high-end cars, luxury items, firearms and ammunition
Europol facilitated the information exchange and provided analytical support during the whole investigation.
Headquartered in The Hague, the Netherlands, Europol supports the 27 EU member states in their fight against terrorism, cybercrime and other serious and organized forms of crime. It also works with many non-EU partner states and international organizations. From its various threat assessments to its intelligence-gathering and operational activities, Europol has the tools and resources it needs to do its part in making Europe safer.
European Audit Institutions pool their work on cybersecurity
As the threat level for cybercrime and cyberattacks has been rising over recent years, auditors across the European Union have been paying increasing attention to the resilience of critical information systems and digital infrastructures. The Audit Compendium on cybersecurity, published today by the Contact Committee of EU supreme audit institutions (SAIs), provides an overview of their relevant audit work in this field.
Cyber incidents may be intentional or unintentional and range from the accidental disclosure of information to attacks on businesses and critical infrastructure, the theft of personal data, or even interference in democratic processes, including elections, and general disinformation campaigns to influence public debates. Cybersecurity was already critical for our societies before COVID-19 hit. But the consequences of the pandemic we are facing will further exacerbate cyber threats. Many business activities and public services have moved from physical offices to teleworking, while ‘fake news’ and conspiracy theories have spread more than ever.
Protecting critical information systems and digital infrastructures against cyberattacks has thus become an ever-growing strategic challenge for the EU and its member states. The question is no longer whether cyberattacks will occur, but how and when they will occur. This concerns us all: individuals, businesses and public authorities.
“The COVID-19 crisis has been testing the economic and social fabric of our societies. Given our dependence on information technology, a ‘cyber crisis’ could well turn out to be the next pandemic“, said European Court of Auditors (ECA) President Klaus-Heiner Lehne. “Seeking digital autonomy and facing challenges posed by cyber threats and external disinformation campaigns will undoubtedly continue to be part of our daily lives and will remain on the political agenda in the next decade. It is therefore essential to raise awareness of recent audit findings on cybersecurity across the EU member states.”
European SAIs have therefore geared up their audit work on cybersecurity recently, with a particular focus on data protection, system readiness for cyberattacks, and the protection of essential public utilities systems. This has to be set in a context in which the EU is aiming to become the world’s safest digital environment. The European Commission and the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in fact, have just presented a new EU Cybersecurity Strategy, which aims to bolster Europe's collective resilience against cyber threats.
The Compendium published on 17 December provides background information on cybersecurity, main strategic initiatives and relevant legal bases in the EU. It also illustrates the main challenges the EU and its member states are facing, such as threats to individual EU citizens´ rights through misuse of personal data, the risk for institutions of not being able to deliver essential public services or facing limited performance following cyberattacks.
The Compendium draws on the results of audits carried out by the ECA and the SAIs of twelve EU member states: Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, France, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Finland and Sweden.
This audit Compendium is a product of co-operation between the SAIs of the EU and its member states within the framework of the EU Contact Committee. It is designed to be a source of information for everyone interested in this important policy field. It is currently available in English on the EU Contact Committee website, and will later be available in other EU languages.
This is the third edition of the Contact Committee’s Audit Compendium. The first edition on Youth unemployment and the integration of young people into the labour market was published in June 2018. The second on Public health in the EU was issued in December 2019.
The Contact Committee is an autonomous, independent and non-political assembly of the heads of SAIs of the EU and its member states. It provides a forum for discussing and addressing matters of common interest relating to the EU. By strengthening dialogue and co-operation between its members, the Contact Committee contributes to an effective and independent external audit of EU policies and programmes
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