Major blow | 

Video shows cocaine cartel leaders arrested at gunpoint in series of dramatic raids

One of the targets arrested in Serbia is a former leader of the infamous Pink Panther heist gang

Balkan’s biggest drug lords arrested after investigation into encrypted phones

Eamon Dillon

A MULTINATIONAL police operation in Europe has targeted one the biggest drug trafficking organisations in the Balkans region.

Dutch, Serbian, and Belgian police carried out of series of arrests and seizures from the gang including a total of 13 tons of cocaine shipped from South America.

The Serbian authorities seized €5 million in assets and arrested 13 people, including the three alleged leaders of the criminal organisation, according to Europol.

The coordinated raids took place in the Netherlands and Serbia on Thursday, targeting the cartel’s leadership and distribution networks.

Dramatic video of one raid shows armed police unearthing a buried plastic container stuffed full with a huge amount of cash.

One of the targets arrested in Serbia is a former leader of the infamous Pink Panther criminal group known for their jewellery and bank heists, according to Europol.

The Dutch and Serbian police searched 35 houses, seized 15 high-end cars, jewellery and watches, almost €3 million in cash along with various weapons and explosives including two sniper rifles.

Seven other members of the gang were previously arrested in Belgium in 2021 while two were arrested in Serbia and Peru and one in the Netherlands earlier this month.

The operation results from intercepted encrypted messages from Sky ECC and Anon services which were hacked by police.

“This criminal organization is believed to be behind multi-ton cocaine shipments that made their way to Europe directly from Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador, or by transiting via logistical infrastructures in West Africa,” Europol said.

The investigation linked at least seven tons of cocaine seized in European ports in 2020 to this cartel, 700 kilograms seized in Rotterdam, 1.2 tons seized in Hasselt in Belgium, and five tons seized in Aruba.

“The gang is known in the criminal underworld for its violence and involvement in high-end robberies.”

“The criminal kingpins, arrested in Belgrade as part of this operation, were the biggest cocaine traffickers in the Western Balkans identified as part of the ongoing analysis work carried out on Sky ECC data.”

Meanwhile, Croatian prosecutors said on Thursday they had charged eight people with trafficking cocaine worth more than €16 million to Europe.

The eight were charged for smuggling drugs from South America to "Croatia and other European Union member countries", stated a spokesperson.

The gang was responsible for trafficking at least 609 kilogrammes of cocaine.

Local media said the eight were believed to be part of the Croatian branch of the Balkan "cocaine ring" linked to former narcotics boss Darko Saric, who is imprisoned in Serbia.

Prosecutors said the shipments of cocaine linked to the alleged suspects were smuggled from South America to the southern Croatian port of Ploce over the course of three years from 2019 to 2022.

The investigation was conducted in cooperation with Ecuador, Serbia, several European Union countries, Eurojust, and Interpol.

Croatia lies on the so-called Balkans route used by criminals to smuggle drugs, weapons and people into western Europe.

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