Cartel's 'corrupt cops' | 

Kinahan mob is linked to bent police as 27 tons of cocaine is seized in European operation

‘El Rico’ Richard Riquelme Vega was extradited.

Eamon Dillon


The Kinahan cartel has been linked to a huge criminal investigation in Belgium where drugs money is being used to corrupt police officers and public officials.

Operation Sky saw Belgium's biggest ever police raid last month when 1,500 officers, including special forces commandos, carried out 200 co-ordinated searches.

A staggering 27 tons of cocaine was seized as a result of the operation, which centred around the port city of Antwerp.

The move came after Belgian police cracked the SkyECC encrypted messaging network favoured by organised criminal gangs.

Like the Encrochat hack, it gave police unlimited access to the system and for several weeks investigators eavesdropped on live messages before making their move.

Among the millions of intercepted messages were some destined for Irish gang members based in Dubai and Turkey.

The information harvested by the police shows how South American gangs supply cocaine to criminal mobs in Belgium, who used their contacts to control the deliveries.


As a result, this has led to unprecedented allegations of corruption and the arrest of police officers, lawyers, customs officials, city workers and port officials.

Some are accused of passing on information to the criminal gangs.

The Belgian justice minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne, said the white collar criminals would be targeted.

Belgian Minister of Justice Vincent Van Quickenborne

"There are indications that people from the public sector are also involved in these cases," he said.

The public prosecutor's office and the federal police announced last month that corruption would be the first priority in the investigation.

TD Neale Richmond, who has previously used the Dail to call out the Kinahan cartel's involvement in boxing promotion, said the gardai need the resources to tackle sophisticated criminal gangs and corruption.

"It is next generation policing that we need. We obviously need people on the beat, we need that presence, but we also need the guards to have full resources to tackle every criminality at every level.

"They have had great success in bringing the Kinahan cartel to book - so many arrests have been made, so many people jailed. All aspects of their drug empire need to be targeted and every resource given, let's see what that throws up.

"I think there is scope to increase the level of resources in terms of funding or manpower.

Ridouan Taghi

"The main thing is to ensure the gardai have the resources and the tools they need to work with European partners and to follow up lines of inquiry and investigation."

Belgian police discovered the drugs delivered from south America are distributed by Italian, British and Irish gangs in what is effectively a 'super cartel' worth billions of euro.

Christy Kinahan senior has long had close contacts in Belgium and especially Antwerp, where he served time for bribing police officers and money laundering.

In 2008, Christy Kinahan and his criminal associates used a professional football club to launder cash and pay-off police officers.

At the time, it was considered one the country's worst cases of corruption and Kinahan Snr was sentenced to four years in prison.


He was extradited back to Belgium from Spain in 2010 to serve his time after his legal team had exhausted all avenues of appeal.

Those close contacts have been further cemented by his son Daniel, whose 2017 wedding in Dubai included guests such as Chilean trafficker Ricardo 'El Rico' Riquelme Vega, Dutch Moroccan Ridouan Taghi and Bosnian crime boss Edin Gacanin.

Leaked documents later showed the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had compiled a dossier on the wedding party and estimated the gangsters had together imported €23 billion worth of cocaine into Europe.

In 2017, the DEA said the cartel was shipping 100 tons of cocaine to Europe every year through ports such as Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.

Taghi was extradited from Dubai to face serious crime charges and his trial in Holland began this week, while El Rico was extradited from Brazil.

After those arrests several gangsters fled their Dubai base and have since set up shop in Turkey, from where they organise the shipping and distribution of huge volumes of cocaine throughout Europe.


This week, Europol warned in a report of "unprecedented quantities of cocaine" being trafficked to the EU from South America.

The colossal sums of money being generated by criminal gangs pose a serious threat to government and commercial institutions.

"The trade in cocaine fuels criminal enterprises that use their enormous resources to infiltrate and undermine the EU's economy, public institutions and society," a statement from Europol said.

It added how cryptocurrencies are increasingly used to make payments to corrupt officials and for money laundering.

"In addition, the digitalisation of public administration will lead to the increased targeting of individuals within companies and public services who can manipulate processes and decisions in digital systems or can otherwise facilitate access to valuable information."

As well as a threat to institutions, there is a very real threat of physical violence being meted out by drug cartels.

"The use of violence related to the trade in drugs has escalated notably in recent years. The trade in cocaine and cannabis in particular triggered a significant number of violent incidents, which included killings, shootings, bombings, arsons, kidnappings, torture and intimidation."

Today's Headlines

More Irish Crime

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos