Record amounts of cocaine have been seized in Antwerp as Belgium battles drug cartels

Cocaine seizures at the port of Antwerp, the main gateway for the illegal drug into Europe, hit a new record last year, as Belgian and Dutch authorities face growing fears of the power of violent international gangs.

Annual figures for drug busts in Belgium and the Netherlands were released on Tuesday, a day after an 11-year-old girl was killed in an armed attack on a home in Antwerp that the city’s mayor described as the latest wave of anger in “continuous drugs”. war”.

Belgium’s main container terminal is now seen as the largest illegal drug route into Europe, with 109.9 tons seized in 2022 and an unknown but possibly much larger amount reaching the market.

Seizures in 2022 rose from 89.5 tons last year. Across the Dutch border, in nearby Rotterdam and Vlissingen, Dutch police fighting the same gangs intercepted another 52.5 tons. After Belgium and Spain, the Netherlands is the third largest drug gateway in Europe.

Belgian Finance Minister Vincent van Peteghem, who oversees the customs service, and Dutch Foreign Minister Oke de Vries revealed the figures at a news conference in Antwerp.

They hailed the “intensive cooperation” between neighboring authorities and promised to hire an additional 100 Belgian customs officers while investing 70 million euros ($75 million) in high-tech tools.

Also Read: Cocaine Cartel Seized in Dubai, Europe – Police

“For the Netherlands, the spending of the next few years will be particularly related to artificial intelligence, chemical detection and container tracking,” said a joint statement.

European police have made a number of high-profile arrests after hacking into an encrypted text messaging network used by gangs, and several large-scale drug busts in recent weeks.

– ‘Drug war’ –

But the amounts of cocaine found in Antwerp only increased, and explosions and gunshots occurred in the city’s neighborhoods as rival groups settled scores.

On Monday, an 11-year-old girl was killed after assailants opened fire on a house, in a shooting that Antwerp Mayor Bart de Wever described as a “settlement of scores” between gangs.

“A drug war is going on,” De Wever told local television.

Belgian prosecutors say that over the past five years they have recorded more than 200 incidents of drug-related violence – mostly assaults and explosives thrown into homes.

Gangs, including the so-called “Mocro Maffia” hailing from communities of Moroccan descent in the Netherlands, have become more daring in recent years.

In September last year, security around Belgian Justice Minister Vincent van Quickenborn was beefed up after four Dutch suspects were arrested for allegedly planning his kidnapping.

Also read: Cocaine and methamphetamine in ‘record availability’ in EU report

Dogs and policemen have been deployed to the container terminals in Antwerp and Rotterdam, but authorities fear they only intercept 10 percent of illegal shipments.

In a separate announcement in the Netherlands, Dutch authorities revealed that drugs seized at their ports in 2022 have a market value of €3.5 billion.

In Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam, seizures are down in 2022, at 46.8 tons compared to 72.8 tons a year earlier, but in smaller Vlissingen, across the Scheldt estuary from Antwerp, 4,157 kilograms were intercepted in 2022, compared to 2,100 kilograms in 2022. 2021. .

Smugglers to the Netherlands appear to be breaking up their shipments into smaller packages, perhaps to spread the risk of interception, but the largest seizure was a 2.8-ton batch in a load of frozen fish from Ecuador.

Big money for cocaine

European drug cartels work with Latin American suppliers to bring in cocaine, mainly from Panama, Colombia, Paraguay, Brazil and Ecuador. From the ports, it is trucked across Europe by well-organized multinational gangs.

It is one of the largest proceeds of organized crime.

Also read: Spain seizes a submarine filled with “several tons” of cocaine

The European Medicines Monitoring Agency estimated in 2020 that the retail cocaine market in the EU is worth between €7.7 billion and €10.5 billion.

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