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25th May 2019

Mexican drug cartels penetrate southern Europe

One of Mexico’s largest and most dangerous drug cartels has expanded its activities throughout the world, including Spain, Italy and the Western Balkans.

"The reach of drug trafficking cartels, in particular the Sinaloa cartel, is one that is frankly global," said the US deputy assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, Brian Nichols, on Thursday (8 November) in Brussels.

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  • A major Mexican drug cartel is making in-roads in Europe (Photo: jpazkual)

American media cite the cartels as reaping billions in profits from hubs stationed only in and around the United States.

But the Sinaloa cartel retains a special status.

In 2010, it allegedly infiltrated the Mexican government, placing informants to secure territory inside the country and to take out rivals. Some, working in conjunction with local crime lords, have already been arrested in Spain and in Italy.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels, Nichols said the cartel is principally interested in moving cocaine but also has interest in marijuana, methamphetamines and ecstasy.

"In terms of their presence in southern Europe, I think they are looking for an entry point, they are looking for markets where they can move their products," said Nichols.

The globalised nature of the drug cartels has pushed national enforcement authorities to work closer together.

Nichols said the US is engaged with the Dutch and the UK in the Caribbean. Agents from Italy, Spain and the UK in Central America are working closely with US rule of law and counter-narcotic experts to investigate and crack down on the networks.

"Most of the leads we follow up on in Europe are developed in the Americas, whether it’s Mexico or Columbia or Peru," said Nichols.

The Mexicans are not the only ones with an acute business interest in the Western Balkans. Colombians and Peruvians are also making in-roads.

"People in Western Balkans are talking to their suppliers in Mexico, in South America," said Nichols.

The joint efforts of crime fighting units from across the globe is a relatively new phenomenon.

South American countries, for instance, are partnering investigations in the Western Balkans and sharing their knowledge and intelligence. "[It] previously is not something you would have seen," said Nichols.

EU secret police

But in Europe, some elusive cross-border investigations and police networks have been in place for at least two decades.

An inquiry by a handful of members from the left-leaning group in Germany’s Bundestag received some insight into activities over the summer after pressing the government for information for over two years.

According to their research, the Dutch launched an International Working Group on Police Undercover Activities (IWG) in 1989. The group has grown.

Agents from all around Europe allegedly meet to exchange experience on all matters related to the covert deployment of police officers.

A source familiar with the group told the deputies that one such meeting in 2007 included "police authority representatives from European states, as well as from Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA."

Germany’s federal government told the deputies in May that its own foreign agents are carefully selected and take on considerable risks "that put their lives and health in danger."

German officials also stated they rely on the dedication and specialist expertise of the agents when it comes to combating the most serious of crimes like human trafficking, with some organised crime syndicates or networks are involved in murder and kidnappings.

"[This] can only be opposed effectively by the German state if there are such officers who express a willingness to undertake covert operations," the federal government told the deputies.

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