Three weeks after the publication by Europol of a report stressing that Belgium and the Netherlands have become the main gateways for cocaine in Europe, the Federal Prosecutor of Belgium, Frédéric Van Leeuw, in office since 2014, describes the expansion of an ultraviolent, Latin American-inspired model.
In recent months, Belgium has been the scene of massive drug seizures, but also of violent clashes linked to drug trafficking, sometimes in the middle of the street. What are the reasons for criminal groups to settle in the country?
Belgium, as a fundamental European logistics center – even for vaccines – is a natural “hub” for organized crime. Antwerp-Zeebrugge, third port in the world, is a gateway to the world and the heart of Europe. By adding the proximity of pharmaceutical laboratories, with a view to the production of synthetic drugs, as well as a toll-free motorway network, it is a field of choice for traffickers, connected to the economic heart of Europe and to consumers.
Since when has this “hub” become essential for cocaine traffickers?
After the peace signed in Colombia in 2016, European criminal groups shortened their supply chain. With the US cocaine market already saturated, Europe has been the main driver of growth. The Colombians and the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta, in particular, are now there. The Mocro Maffia, which made a fortune by taking advantage of the evolution of legislation in the Netherlands, has risen in rank, until it too has become a full-fledged player in cocaine trafficking.
How are these criminal associations structured and interacted?
These increasingly powerful criminal groups are turning into “crime syndicate” type structures, as exists in Brazil in particular. That is to say with a diversification of services, according to a system similar to that of specialized “franchises” (money laundering, weapons, etc.), in which each level works without knowing the upper floors. There is also a very rapid technological leap in quality, with the use of encrypted communications, which are always more difficult to intercept. Money laundering circuits are now also often outsourced, using clearing systems and virtual currencies.
In view of recent clashes, does the idea that the mafias thrive in silence and invisibility no longer hold true in Belgium?
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