An international operation across three countries has resulted in the takedown of the biggest drug trafficking criminal organization in the Balkan region.

On 11 May, coordinated raids were carried out in Serbia and the Netherlands, targeting both the cartel’s leadership and distribution infrastructure. Seven other members of this criminal organization were already arrested in Belgium in 2021. Two individuals were previously arrested for other offenses in Serbia and Peru. Another suspect was arrested in the Netherlands on 8 May 2023.

A total of 23 individuals have been arrested, including the 3 leaders of this criminal organization, considered as High-Value Targets by Europol.

Results of the action day in brief
• 13 arrests in Serbia including 3 High Value Targets
• 35 house searches
• Seizures include:

  • 15 high-end cars and luxury jeweler and watches for an estimated amount of about EUR 2 million and almost EUR 3 million in cash
  • Weapons and explosives including 2 sniper rifles, 3 automatic rifles, guns, silencers, 24 detonator capsules, and 5 devices for remote initiation of detonators, 13 packages of plastic explosives, and several hundred pieces of ammunition.

Sky ECC intelligence development

This cross-border sting is the result of intelligence development in the framework of Europol’s Operational Taskforce looking into the usage of the encrypted communication platform Sky ECC, taken down by March 2021.

In cooperation with France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, and with the support of Europol’s Drugs Unit, Serbia was able to identify the key targets on its territory, and map out their criminal activities across the world.

This criminal organization is believed to be behind multi-tonne cocaine shipments that made their way to Europe directly from Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador, or by transiting via logistical infrastructures in West Africa. This gang was known in the criminal underworld for its violence and involvement in high-end robberies. One of the targets arrested in Serbia was a former leader of the infamous Pink Panther criminal group.

Buy Me A Coffee

Thanks to the analysis carried out on Sky ECC data, at least seven tonnes of cocaine seized in European ports in 2020 were traced back to this cartel, including:
• 700 kilos of cocaine seized in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
• 1.2 tonnes of cocaine seized in Hasselt, Belgium
• 5 tonnes of cocaine seized in Aruba, the Dutch Antilles

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.

Operational Taskforce ‘Balkan Cartel’

The recent takedown of three encrypted communication tools used by criminals – Encrochat, Sky ECC and Anom – revealed the prevalence of Balkan criminals in the global cocaine trade and related organised crime activities.

To respond to this threat, Europol created the Operational Taskforce ‘Balkan Cartel’ and brought together countries across Europe and the world to effectively target this threat emanating from this region. This action day is a result of this Operational Taskforce which is ongoing.
Europol’s Deputy Executive Director Jean-Philippe Lecouffe commented:

With over 50 countries with a permanent representation at Europol – including all the Balkan countries, Europol is the place where such cooperation can take place. It is by constant sharing of intelligence and proper coordination that we can disrupt criminal networks, dismantle their operations and make our communities safer.

In addition, Europol has been provided with continuous intelligence development and analysis to support field investigators. Two Europol staff members were deployed to Belgrade to support the Serbian authorities with their investigative measures during this action day.

Eurojust facilitated the judicial cooperation between the countries involved in this investigation.
The following authorities took part in this action:
• Serbia: Criminal Police – Drugs Combating Service (Канцеларија за борбу против дрога)
• The Netherlands: National Police (Politie)
• Belgium: Federal Judicial Police Limburg (Federale Politie / Police Fédérale)