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Suspects from a major international drug dealing gang, dismantled by Europol and law enforcement officers from 15 nations, will come in front of Bonn’s District Court next month. In the dock will be a 57–year old German and two Latvian citizens, aged 37 and 40, who first came to the attention of German law enforcement in the summer of 2008. German investigators were made aware of the 57–year old businessman’s contact with a Latvian criminal group and several of his meetings were monitored in Bonn, Rhein–Sieg District, Cologne, Riga and the Netherlands.
The network was a sort of corporate business, with production of synthetic drugs concentrated in the Netherlands, the import of cocaine from South America, and large scale poly–drug trafficking within the European Union and beyond (e.g. to the Russian Federation).
In cooperation with the United States, Belgian and Spanish authorities it was identified that the 57–year old was the co–owner and captain of a yacht called Hiqe. This boat is thought to have been involved in the delivery of 1.2 tonnes of cocaine from South America to Spain in the middle of 2007. From Spain, couriers brought the illegal drugs to Belgium, the Netherlands and Latvia.
Then, in August 2008, a courier was arrested with 15 kilos of ecstasy pills in Frankfurt am Main. He had made several ecstasy and cocaine deliveries in the period 2006 – 2008, from the Netherlands to Latvia via Germany, Poland and Lithuania. (It was later found that this courier was responsible for smuggling around 750 000 pills and 15 kg of cocaine into the Baltic countries during this period of time.)
In January 2009, the group of suspects was identified as having intense links with suspected drug dealers in Ecuador and Peru. At this point, German Federal Police involved Europol via their liaison officers in The Hague. Europol soon started providing on–line analytical support, coordination and operational analysis of the high level of intelligence coming in from the 15 countries involved. Eurojust was also called upon to provide support and handle international judicial questions.
Investigations identified that the 57–year old co–owner and captain of Hiqe had not only been involved with the delivery of the 1.2 tonnes of cocaine in 2007 – he had also been linked with a meeting at sea in February 2008 between Hiqe and the vessel Junior, off the coast of the Republic of Guinea in West Africa. The crew of Hiqe was due to receive a large consignment of cocaine from Junior, but the feeder boats from Brazil which were due to deliver the drugs to Junior didn’t arrive and the delivery didn’t happen. So Hiqe sailed off and the cocaine was later delivered to Junior by the feeder boats – however Junior’s trip came to an abrupt halt when the French Coast Guard intervened and seized the 3.2 tonnes of cocaine on board and arrested the crew.
In March 2009 members of the criminal network met at a Cologne hotel to discuss a cocaine smuggling operation from Ecuador to Europe. One of their ideas was to dissolve the cocaine in a shipment of molasses which would be converted back to its original form in a laboratory once it arrived in Europe.
Soon after, in May 2009, several suspects were arrested in Guayaquil, Ecuador, following an intensive exchange of information and comprehensive analysis via Europol. A container loaded with 600 jerry cans of molasses was seized, weighing 22 tonnes. The molasses tested positive for cocaine with an estimated yield of around 10 per cent.
Among those arrested in Ecuador was a 49–year old Latvian, considered the head of the Latvian criminal group, one Ukrainian and two Ecuadorian nationals. The Latvian was co–owner of the yacht Hiqe and had close links to the 57–year old German main suspect. The German was arrested mid–May as well as the two Latvians who also will face court in Bonn next month.
The same international criminal network faced another failed operation when the Icelandic authorities seized a significant amount of amphetamine and thousands of ecstasy tablets from them in April 2009.