One of Europe’s most wanted drug traffickers behind bars and 16 arrested in Brazil

 A total of 16 suspects have been arrested this week in a major international operation against an organised crime group trafficking cocaine between Brazil and Europe. The gang’s ringleader, a Serbian national residing in Brazil, features among those arrested. 

The investigation, carried out in the framework of Europol’s Operational Taskforce (OTF) ‘Balkan Cartel’, was a collaborative effort between law enforcement authorities on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. Over the last year and a half, the involved authorities worked tirelessly together to gather intelligence and coordinate the operational activities.

The targeted criminal group, known for its elaborate network spanning both sides of the Atlantic, was involved in the large-scale trafficking of cocaine from South America to various European destinations. 

In the early hours of 5 October, a series of raids were carried out at different locations in Brazil (São Paulo, Ceará, Paraná, Rio Grande do Norte et Santa Catarina). As a result, 16 suspects were arrested, several of whom had ties to the ‘Primeiro Comando da Capital’ criminal organisation. The Serbian ringleader was one of the most important targets within Europol’s OTF Balkan Cartel due to his role in organising numerous drug shipments between continents.

 The Brazilian investigators were able to link this criminal gang to two recent cocaine seizures: one of 5.7 tonnes of cocaine on board a fishing vessel in Cape Verde in April 2022, and a second one of 1.3 tonnes of cocaine on board a fishing vessel in Fortaleza, Brazil, in August 2022. A total of 12 suspects – 10 Brazilian nationals and 2 Montenegrin nationals – were arrested on these two occasions. 

This series of arrests in Brazil marks a significant victory in the fight against the Western Balkan criminal groups operating around the globe. The investigation was substantially developed within Europol’s OTF Balkan Cartel, with Europol providing continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the field investigators in Brazil and the agencies involved in the operation. 

The evidence gathered during the raids will now be analysed to identify new investigative leads which can be further developed within the Operational Taskforce, which comprises law enforcement authorities from 11 countries. 

The following authorities took part in the investigation:

• Brazil: Federal Police (Polícia Federal), Brazilian Marine (Marinha do Brasil)

• Cape Verde: National Police (Policia Nacional)

• Serbia: Criminal Police Directorate (Управа криминалистичке полиције)

• United Kingdom: National Crime Agency (NCA)

• United States: US Drug Enforcement Administration (US DEA)

• Europol