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Police raids in Brussels target Belgium's organised crime network
Another operation against a criminal organisation dealing with the large-scale import of cocaine in Belgium took place on Tuesday. More than 1,000 police officers were involved in the raids, mainly concentrated in the Brussels municipalities of Saint-Josse-ten-Noode and Uccle, searching 114 properties and arresting 64 people.
"We are discovering a new criminal world throughout the Brussels territory that has so far managed to go unnoticed," said Eric Jacobs, head of the federal judicial police in Brussels.
It is already the third operation that the federal prosecutor's office has launched against drug gangs this year. At the beginning of 2021, the focus of the first research was in and around the port of Antwerp. Around 200 house searches led to 50 arrests and the seizure of 17 tonnes of cocaine.
Just over a week ago, the epicentre of the second large-scale raid was in Liège. There, too, dozens of house searches were carried out, tonnes of drugs with a street value of around €80 million were seized, as well as luxury goods, weapons and cash. Some 28 suspects were arrested. During this operation, drug laboratories and packaging facilities were also dismantled on the periphery of forests in the Ardennes, where, among other things, cocaine was prepared for sale.
The focus of the latest raids this time was Brussels and as before, the information which led to the house searches would have been obtained through Operation Sky, the police operation in which investigators have followed the plans of criminal gangs via messages sent from encrypted Sky ECC phones.
The target of the operation was an Albanian criminal organisation that is widely involved in the import and international distribution of cocaine and other narcotics that has links with Colombia. "The intention is to destabilise the cocaine trade to Belgium as much as possible," the federal prosecutor's office said.
"Today's case concerns a criminal organisation suspected of being active in cocaine trafficking between South America and Europe," added Jacobs. "A group of criminals located in Belgium, mainly in Brussels, organises the import of cocaine, its extraction and repackaging in Belgian laboratories. We estimate production at one tonne of cocaine per week in Brussels and the outskirts. After this repackaging, couriers carry out the delivery to the rest of Europe".
The Brussels raids also uncovered six laboratories in Brussels and its outskirts where cocaine imported into Belgium was repackaged for distribution across Europe. Tonnes of products and materials believed to have been impregnated with cocaine were also seized. The police confiscated more than €1 million euros in cash and a large quantity of gold coins. Cars and luxury goods, including watches - which are a new means of disposing of large sums of money - were also seized, as well as dozens of weapons, 300m³ of tobacco and technical equipment such as drones and submarine propulsion engines for diving.
In addition to the operation in the capital, simultaneous raids took place in the Antwerp region, in Walloon Brabant and in other locations in Flanders and Wallonia.
"International and even global organised crime is clearly very established in Belgium," said Eric Snoeck, director-general of the federal judicial police. "We already knew that the port of Antwerp is the main European port to import cocaine. The Brussels region now appears as the second place of activity of this network."