AN international criminal gang that shipped cocaine to Europe using sailing boats has been broken up.
The organisation was based in Marbella and Paris, and the drugs were distributed in the Spanish provinces of Cadiz and Malaga, as well as in the Ile de France region, which includes Paris.
Police found that the network had two branches: the French branch, which was in charge of distributing the drugs; and the Spanish branch, which was in charge of maintaining contacts with cocaine suppliers in Colombia and Venezuela.
The operation ended with the arrest of 15 people and the seizure of more than 1,000 kilos of cocaine, €797,950 in cash, two yachts, seven vehicles and three guns.
The network, based in Marbella and Paris, shipped the drug from the Caribbean to Europe on sailing boats captained by one of the members of the organisation.
The investigation began in the summer of 2021 when the Guardia Civil spotted a sailing boat arrive in El Puerto de Santa Maria (Cadiz), captained by a French citizen, which they suspected was linked to cocaine trafficking.
Investigations revealed links between him and a second French citizen who was being investigated by National Police for his alleged links to international drug trafficking.
The two organisations joined forces for the investigation and asked the French OFAST (Anti-Narcotics Office) for help.
They told Spanish police that the skipper of the yachtwas known for his links to the illicit drugs trade.
He had been rescued in the English Channel in 2010 after the yacht he was single-handedly sailing sank. Police at the time suspected it had been carrying drugs.
The second French man had no previous police record, although one of his brothers is closely linked to cocaine trafficking in Paris.
As the investigation progressed, the agents observed numerous meetings between the two men, both in Spain and in France.
Police spotted an increase in the number of meetings between the suspects and several French nationals based in Marbella, some of whom were known members of the Marseille mafia. Among the contacts observed was a well-known French criminal linked for decades to organised crime and bank robbery, who had also been convicted in France for murdering a policeman during a robbery.
In autumn 2022, investigators observed that the organisation was accelerating preparations for what appeared to be an ongoing operation.
At the same time, the first of those investigated – who was based in Paris – bought, repaired and fitted out a sailing boat in Martinique for his trans Atlantic trip.
He set sail from the Caribbean island in November 2022, declaring France as his final destination. But he did not set sail directly for Europe, instead he headed south and pitched anchor a few hours north of Isla Margarita (Venezuela). He then altered course and began the voyage to Europe via the Azores.
Despite the poor sea conditions, at the end of December last year, the Spanish Navy was called in to intercept and board the yacht to the west of the Azores.
They found 25 bales of cocaine, weighing a total of 740 kilos.
Two people were arrested: the captain and a Venezuelan man who acted as a ‘notary’ and who had boarded the yacht together with the cocaine on Isla Margarita.
Police in Spain and France then followed up with coordinated raids.
In Spain, they seized €52,450 in cash, two firearms (located in a home in Salamanca), two satellite navigation devices for boats, vehicles and multiple mobile phones.
In France, the flat in Paris turned out to be a narcotics warehouse where another 345 kilos of cocaine and a firearm were found. In addition, €745,500 were seized in other searches.