An international crime syndicate smuggling black market pandemic medical supplies from China to Europe has been busted by the police after years of drug-running.
The European syndicate had been supplying cocaine and cannabis worth more than €88 million ($103m) to the UK for over a decade.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, it diversified into smuggling black market Covid tests and medical equipment from China to Spain.
Europe’s crime agency Europol had been investigating the gang for the last three years and this week made 13 arrests, including four kingpins in the operation, in Poland and Spain.
Raids across Europe saw an armoury of firearms, incapacitating gases and machetes recovered and officials have seized more than €3 million worth of assets in bank accounts and properties.
The gang had been smuggling the drugs in vehicles and hiding them inside vehicle compartments or shipping containers.
“The alleged members were involved in a large drug trafficking network operating in multiple European countries,” Europol said.
“The Polish criminal group was associated with football hooligans from one of Kraków’s sports clubs.
“The gang collaborated with an Albanian-speaking organised criminal group to smuggle cocaine to the UK. It bought, smuggled and sold large quantities of drugs, mainly hashish, marijuana and cocaine.
“The international smuggling was carried out across borders by concealing drugs within transported goods or in hidden compartments of vehicles.
“The stashed drugs transited from Spain and to multiple countries including Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Poland and the UK.”
Since the beginning of Europol’s investigation, 68 suspects linked to the organised crime group have been arrested.
During the coordinated operations, Polish, UK and Spanish law enforcement authorities arrested one of the leaders in the Spanish province of Alicante, and three other suspects were arrested as part of operations carried out in the three Polish provinces of Małopolska, Silesia and Lower Silesia.
Raids in the areas also led to four cannabis plantations being seized, containing 3,000 plants, and large quantities of cannabis.
A warehouse used by one of the leaders of the gang was discovered to contain a large number of surgical masks and Covid swab tests which had been smuggled from China.
Earlier this year, Europol published a report into counterfeiting and scams relating to the pandemic.
A crackdown by the agency has led to fake Covid blood screening tests being seized and multiple seizures of substandard facemasks, and bogus vaccines.
Updated: October 28, 2020 05:15 PM