Strong international co-operation underpinned the success of operation "Desert Light", which smashed a cocaine super-cartel with a hub in Dubai that controlled a third of Europe's cocaine trade, Emirati officials said Monday (November 28).
The bust underscores the "tireless efforts" and commitment of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to clamp down on organised criminal networks through strong international security co-ordination and co-operation, a security official said.
More than 30 tonnes of cocaine were seized during the international operation, which led to 49 arrests in the UAE, Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Spain, the European Union's police agency (Europol) said.
Six kingpins were arrested in the gang's hub in Dubai, Europol said, including a "big fish" from the Netherlands, who reportedly had links to alleged Dutch crime boss Ridouan Taghi, who was himself seized in the Gulf emirate in 2019.
"The drugpins, considered as high-value targets by Europol, had come together to form what was known as a 'super cartel' which controlled around one third of the cocaine trade in Europe," Europol said.
"The scale of cocaine importation into Europe under the suspects' control and command was massive."
Dubai police commander-in-chief Lt. Gen. Abdullah Khalifa Al Marri described "Desert Light" as a testimony to the UAE's tireless efforts to clamp down on organised criminal networks, the Emirati news agency, WAM reported.
The real-time co-ordination among all the partners involved swift tactical decisions that facilitated the arrests and the dismantling of the criminal infrastructure and network, he said.
It was the culmination of parallel investigations into the drug-trafficking and money laundering network run in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UAE with the support of Europol, he said.
No safe haven
UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Lt. Gen. Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan praised the joint international efforts that involved the Ministry of Interior, represented by the Dubai Police General Command.
He reaffirmed the UAE's keenness to maintain active communication channels with various police agencies worldwide to ensure the world's safety and security.
He also noted that the joint efforts are in line with the UAE's National Strategy on Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism, WAM said.
The Dutch suspect had allegedly formed an alliance in Dubai with the leaders of Irish and Italian drug gangs who also were arrested, Dutch public broadcaster NOS said.
A video released by Europol showed agents including some from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Spanish Guardia Civil arresting suspects and seizing luxury cars and hidden stashes of cash.
Dubai arrested two "high-value" suspects who are linked to France, two connected to the Netherlands and another two linked to Spain, Europol said.
Europol spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth said it was a "textbook example of an international operation into the most dangerous organised crime groups".
"The Emirates were a safe haven for criminals ... but this time is over," he said. "We have excellent co-operation with Dubai police so criminals have to look for some different spot to hide."
Arab and Gulf countries have stepped up their operations to clamp down on the smuggling of drugs through their territories in recent months. Much of the drug trade benefits Iran and its proxies in the region.
'Extremely big fish'
Ten people were arrested in Belgium, six in France and 13 in Spain during the operation from November 8 to 19. Another 14 people were arrested last year in the Netherlands as part of the same operation, Europol said.
They are the latest in a series of arrests around Europe that followed a police hack of sophisticated encrypted telephones used by organised crime networks last year, Europol said.
For the most part the cocaine came from South America through the European ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, although some had passed through South Africa.
Dutch prosecutors said they would request the extradition of the two Dutch nationals arrested in Dubai.
One is a dual Dutch-Bosnian national who was reportedly wanted by the US DEA for his links to Moroccan-born Ridouan Taghi.
Described as a dangerous criminal by Dutch police, Taghi was the leader of "Angels of Death", a criminal cartel operating in Europe and Africa, WAM reported.
Taghi's 2019 arrest, at a residential villa in Dubai, was made possible through successful co-operation among Dubai Police, the Netherlands police and Interpol, the Emirati news agency said at the time.
He is now on trial in the Netherlands on charges of murder and running a huge Amsterdam-based cocaine smuggling group.
The other suspect is a dual Dutch and Moroccan national.
"One of the Dutch suspects is an extremely big fish," a Europol source said. "He was just as important as Taghi, if not more important."
'Torture and barbarism'
Two Belgian-Moroccans suspected of amassing "enormous riches" running a Dubai-based network for trafficking cocaine into France were among those arrested, a French judicial source said.
The investigation revealed "barbaric methods, of extreme violence", with "acts of torture and barbarism" practiced by the armed members of the group, the source said.
Three people arrested in France were placed in detention for crimes including kidnapping and torture, after one gang member in Antwerp was tortured after the theft of some drugs.
Spain's Guardia Civil said a total of 13 people had been arrested in Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga.
The head of the smuggling operation, a British national, fled to Dubai after an attempted arrest in Spain and was continuing to direct operations from there, it said in a statement.
The cocaine was imported from Panama in Central America and his supplier, a Panamanian, also lived in Dubai, it said.
Belgian prosecutors said the investigation had already led to raids in Antwerp in August, in which local media said about €900,000 had been seized.