The EU Drug Markets Report published by the Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (Emcdda) this morning reveals how Irish criminal networks have become major players in the cocaine market.
Irish gangs are described as "very large wholesalers" who "store significant quantities" of cocaine in EU distribution hubs, mainly to supply the United Kingdom.
“Violence and homicides in several EU Member States have also been connected to the notorious Kinahan clan from Dublin, Ireland," the report states.
"Conflict between the Kinahans and rival groups has led to the murder of at least 20 people in Belgium, Ireland, the Netherlands and Spain.
“The trial of some Kinahan clan members revealed that specialised crime cells were established in order to kill rivals.”
The Kinahan cartel are believed to be responsible for a number of murders in Spain - including hits on Gerard 'Hatchet' Kavanagh, Gary Hutch and Paddy Doyle.
The report described a series of “deadly score-settling incidents” between criminal networks involved in the cocaine, and cannabis trade in Spain where 33 such murders were carried out in the Costa del Sol area between 2018 and 2021.
The report says the growth in cocaine trafficking is linked to a rise in violence, including homicides, shootings, bombings, arsons, kidnappings, torture and intimidation.
It said in the Netherlands a lawyer was shot dead by drug gangs and that judges, journalists and police officers have been given police protection.
Shockingly, the Dutch prime minister has also had to have his security upgraded because of threats from gangs.
The report refers to the July 2021 killing of crime journalist, Peter R de Vries, who was shot dead in Amsterdam, in a horror shooting linked to the Morocco Mafia.
Another trial in the Netherlands revealed how a shipping container was fitted out as a “detention, torture and possibly killing centre” for rival gang members.
The report also said that Irish crime networks are “very large wholesalers” of cocaine in Europe and store significant hauls of cocaine in “EU distribution hubs”.
While most cocaine manufacturing still takes place in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, the new analysis describes how cocaine processing is now taking place inside Europe (mainly in Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands).
“Large quantities of chemical precursors used in cocaine production have been seized from illicit production laboratories and at European borders,” the report states.
“Recent data also suggest that large amounts of cocaine powder have been processed in Europe from intermediary products, such as coca paste and cocaine base.
“Some of these are smuggled from South America in carrier materials (e.g. charcoal, plastics) and then extracted in specialised facilities.
"Availability in Europe of large amounts of cocaine base and coca paste creates a risk of new smokable cocaine products (e.g. ‘crack’) emerging on European consumer markets, posing considerable health and social risks.
The report says that Methamphetamine, described as “the most widely consumed synthetic stimulant drug in the world” still plays a relatively small role in Europe’s drug market.
“Nevertheless, the latest analysis shows the growing threat posed by this drug in the region, as availability increases and use spreads to new areas,” the report adds.
“Methamphetamine is produced inside the EU to supply both domestic and external markets. Europe is also a destination and transit zone for this drug from other production hubs (e.g. Iran, Nigeria, Mexico) bound for Asia and Oceania.
Europol’s Executive Director Catherine De Bolle said the trade in illegal drugs continues to dominate serious and organised crime in the EU”.
“Nearly 40 per cent of the criminal networks operating at the international level reported to Europol are active in drug trafficking,” she added.
"Fighting this illegal trade is a key priority for Europol and the EU. Today's analysis supports us in understanding the market dynamics and is crucial for formulating effective law enforcement responses".
EMCDDA Director Alexis Goosdeel, added: “Our new analyses show that we are now facing a growing threat from a more diverse and dynamic drug market, that is driven by closer collaboration between European and international criminal organisations.
“This has resulted in record levels of drug availability, rising violence and corruption, and greater health problems. In response, we need to be even more sensitive to signals coming from the market and invest in greater coordinated action, not only in Europe, but also with our international partners in producer and transit countries.”
Last year, a report by Europol and the UN’s Drug Crime Office (UNODC) revealed how Irish drug gangs were gaining a greater share of the European cocaine market.
According to intelligence compiled by the EU’s crime agency, there was evidence of greater cooperation among crime groups, including the Kinahan cartel, and that cocaine seizures at Irish ports had increased along with a “significant” rise in supply.
A separate study by the agency a year before found that Ireland had the fifth-highest cocaine use in Europe, with numbers across the continent expected to increase from the 4.4m users in 2020.
The ‘Cocaine Insights 1’ report, citing Europol intelligence, said that Irish drug trafficking organisations (DTOs) “appear to be gaining greater shares of the cocaine market in Europe” along with other gangs.
It says that a shift in the south American crime landscape has also allowed new actors to become involved in the cocaine distribution, including “less prominent trafficking DTOs (that) also originate from Ireland, Poland and Serbia.”
Europol adds that there is a “new phenomenon” of increased cooperation between drug organisations in Europe.
“One example of an attempt at collusion among different groups may have been observed in 2017 in Dubai, involving individuals with ties to Irish, Italian, Bosnian and Dutch DTOs,” it states.
The meeting is a reference to the wedding of cartel leader Daniel Kinahan at the seven-star Burj al Arab hotel which was attended by a number of international criminals.
Among the guests were Chilean drug lord Ricard ‘El Rico’ Vega, Dutch-Moroccan mobster Ridouan Taghi, and Italian Mafioso Raffaele Imperiale.
Europol and the UNODC also note that a number of city ports have had an increase in cocaine seizures- including Dublin and Rosslare.
In March 2020 an estimated €1.5m worth of cocaine was seized at the Wexford hub by gardaí, one of the biggest in Ireland last year.