Home USA News Cartels, mafias and gangs in Europe are using fruit companies, hotels and other legal businesses as fronts, Europol says

Cartels, mafias and gangs in Europe are using fruit companies, hotels and other legal businesses as fronts, Europol says

Cartels, mafias and gangs in Europe are using fruit companies, hotels and other legal businesses as fronts, Europol says

Criminal networks in the European Union are penetrating legal businesses across the 27-nation bloc and rely heavily on corruption to develop their activities. That’s the bleak picture emerging from a report published Friday by the EU crime agency.

Europol has identified 821 particularly threatening criminal networks with more than 25,000 members in the bloc.

According to the agency, 86% of those networks are able to infiltrate the legal economy to hide their activities and launder their criminal profits.

Europol cited the example of a gang leader identified as an Italian businessman of Argentinian origin residing in Marbella, Spain. The individual specialized in drug trafficking and money laundering and manages several companies, including one that imports bananas from Ecuador to the EU. He also owns sports centers in Marbella, commercial centers in Granada and multiple bars and restaurants, it said.

“An Albanian accomplice, based in Ecuador, takes care of the import of cocaine from Colombia to Ecuador and the subsequent distribution to the EU. Ecuadorian fruit companies are used as a front for these criminal activities,” the report said.

Massive hauls of drugs have been hidden in banana shipments throughout Europe in recent months. In February, British authorities said they had found more than 12,500 pounds of cocaine hidden in a shipment of bananas, shattering the record for the biggest single seizure of hard drugs in the country. Last August, customs agents in the Netherlands seized 17,600 pounds of cocaine found hidden inside crates of bananas in Rotterdam’s port. Three months before that, a police dog sniffed out 3 tons of cocaine stashed in a case of bananas in the Italian port of Gioia Tauro.

Italy Cocaine Bananas
In this image taken from a video provided by the Italian Finance Police, an Italian finance police officer indicates to his dog where to search for cocaine among a load of bananas, at the port of Gioia Tauro, southern Italy, Tuesday, May 16, 2023. The finance police say they have seized a shipment of more than 2,700 kilos (about 3 tons) of cocaine hidden under some 70 tons of bananas in two containers shipped by sea from Ecuador, that could have brought traffickers a potential value of more than 800 million euros ($900 million) in street sales. (Guardia di Finanza via AP)

/ AP

Europol also cites families from Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta organized crime syndicate, one of the world’s most powerful, extensive and wealthy drug-trafficking groups. Their profits from drug and arms trafficking as well as tax defrauding are invested throughout Europe in real estate, supermarkets, hotels and other commercial activities, it said.

Another characteristic of these networks is the borderless nature of their structure, with 112 nationalities represented among their members, the report said.

“However, looking at the locations of their core activities, the vast majority maintain a strong geographical focus and do not extend their core activities too broadly,” Europol said.

As for their activities, drug trafficking and corruption are the main concern for EU officials.

As record amounts of cocaine are being seized in Europe and drug-related violent crime is becoming increasingly visible in many EU countries such as Belgium and France, drug trafficking is standing out as the key activity, the report said. Half of the most threatening criminal networks are involved in drug trafficking, either as a standalone activity or as part of a portfolio.

In addition, more than 70% of networks engage in corruption “to facilitate criminal activity or obstruct law enforcement or judicial proceedings. 68% of networks use violence and intimidation as an inherent feature of their modus operandi,” the report said.

In Belgium, with Antwerp the main gateway for Latin American cocaine cartels into the continent, gang violence has been rife in the port city for years. In January, Belgian authorities said they seized a record amount of cocaine at the port of Antwerp last year, the BBC reported.

With drug use on the rise across the whole country, federal authorities say trafficking is rapidly penetrating society.

“Organized crime is one of the biggest threats we face today, threatening society with corruption and extreme violence,” said the European commissioner for Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson.

Europol said the data will be shared with law enforcement agencies in EU member countries, which should help better target criminals.


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