An extensive network of heroin traffickers, bringing large quantities of the drug into the European Union, has been dismantled following the setting up of a joint investigation team, facilitated by Eurojust and supported by Europol, the European police agency said on December 22.
Almost 400 suspects were arrested and 100 kg heroin was seized, along with quantities of cocaine, cannabis and cash during the course of the long running investigation. Notably, four tons of drug cutting agents were also seized, indicating the significant scale of the network’s operation, Europol said.
The gang, operating from their bases in Austria, Germany and Macedonia, brought heroin into the EU along the Balkan Route and distributed it across several European countries.
Several action days took place during the course of the investigation, which began in 2010, and resulted in significant operational successes by law enforcement agencies in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Macedonia.
Law enforcement investigations resulted in arrests and convictions of the main criminal suspects who masterminded the operation, however, such was the extent of the organisation, they had the ability to rebuild their network. Hence it was the setting up of a joint investigation team that dealt the final blow to their ability to operate, culminating towards the end of this year, Europol said.
The investigation focussed on a number of organised crime groups that co-operated and operated together out of Macedonia. Their aims were to circulate high-quality heroin in Europe at very low prices and carry out large-scale drug trafficking, especially in Austria and Germany.
The individual members’ areas of operations were rigidly structured within a hierarchy, and members lower down knew very few other members of the group, and none of its principals.
Members were mainly recruited in Macedonia, where they had the prospect of earning good money and were taken to Vienna and Frankfurt where they had strictly defined roles.
These included mixing, packaging and transporting heroin from Macedonia, or adulterants from the Netherlands to various countries in Europe. In fact, the organisation was characterised by its strict division of labour and well-organised procedures.
The joint investigation team set out to permanently destroy the criminal organisation in the former Macedonia as well as its cells in Vienna and Frankfurt. The law enforcement team operated at these locations as well as in Rotterdam.
Afghanistan is the primary source of heroin encountered in the EU; there is significant trafficking towards Europe of heroin that has exited Afghanistan via the borders with Pakistan and Iran, the latter offering the shortest and most direct route to Europe.
Heroin is also transported from Pakistan to European consumer countries by air, and cells of Pakistani origin traffic heroin to Europe using a variety of transportation options that enable them to react flexibly to changes in law enforcement activity.
From Iran, heroin is smuggled across the border with Turkey and reaches Europe travelling along the Balkan Route. Much of this heroin transits Bulgaria via the former Yugoslavia and Slovenia to Italy or Austria, or via Macedonia and Albania to Italy, or via Romania, Hungary or Ukraine to Slovakia/Czech Republic or Poland, and then to Austria or Germany.