Antwerp is more of a cocaine-trafficking hub in Europe than ever – 10-01-2023, 17:18

A customs official inspects a box of bananas in a hangar at the port of Antwerp on May 20, 2022 (AFP / Valeria Mongelli)

A new record: in 2022, Belgian authorities seized about 110 tons of cocaine in the port of Antwerp, the first entry route of this drug sent from Latin America to Europe.

The annual report was announced on Tuesday at a joint press conference between Belgium and the Netherlands to celebrate the two countries’ “intense cooperation” in the fight against this international traffic.

The two neighboring countries concerned about crime related to this traffic are the top three European countries, along with Spain, for cocaine shipments, mainly from Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.

However, the difference between the port of Antwerp and the port of Rotterdam (Netherlands), where the capture of white powder decreased last year, widens to 46.8 tons against 72.8 in 2021.

On the contrary, Belgium continues to fly from record to record: in Antwerp, the limit of 100 tons was exceeded for the first time.

Customs said that in 2021, this figure was 89.5 tons and in 2022 it was 109.9 tons. The 2021 figure has already seen a 36% year-on-year increase, thanks to the amount of information gleaned from traffickers through the Sky ECC encrypted phone network leak.

Seizures “accelerated in the fall,” Belgian customs spokeswoman Florence Angelici said, recalling that end-of-the-year celebrations usually lead to a peak in cocaine consumption.

– “Creation of criminals” –

A dog sniffs a container during a customs inspection at the port of Antwerp on May 20, 2022 (AFP / Valeria Mongelli)

A dog sniffs a container during a customs inspection at the port of Antwerp on May 20, 2022 (AFP / Valeria Mongelli)

A few weeks ago, cartels ramped up supplies of the white powder to prepare for this “White Christmas,” a colorful phrase favored by chief customs officer Christian Vanderwaeren.

The latter also insists on the “creation of criminal organizations” to meet the growing demand for cocaine, which the authorities must adapt to.

Belgium plans to hire an additional 108 customs officers and new scanning equipment at a cost of 70 million euros to strengthen controls.

As for the growing gap between the two large neighboring ports, this is particularly explained by the configuration of the buildings, Ms. Angelici says.

The Rotterdam platform, where container terminals are less scattered, is “easier to control” than Antwerp, he told AFP. Increased security on the Dutch site may also have deterred some criminals.

Last year, “we increased our surveillance, our investigations and made more arrests,” Hugo Hillenaar of the Rotterdam prosecutor’s office said during a presentation organized in parallel to the one in Antwerp.

– Large financial stakes –

A concrete example of bilateral cooperation: Dutch diving teams intervene in the port of Antwerp to check for possible storage in the hulls of ships below the waterline.

“Any suspicious activity discovered in Rotterdam or any new stealth technology discovered in Antwerp can improve both ports. The exchange of information and experience is the beating heart of our cooperation,” emphasized Belgian Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem, who welcomed the Netherlands. Aukje de Vries, Secretary of State for Customs, to the customs warehouse in Beveren, near Antwerp.

Both governments are concerned about the rise in violent crime in their territories as a result of drug trafficking.

An 11-year-old girl was killed and three family members were injured when their home in Antwerp was opened fire on Monday.

Mayor Bart De Wever immediately linked his city to the “war on drugs” that has been fighting rival gangs for months. A nuanced version of the prosecutor’s office on Tuesday assured that “the target address is not yet known for criminal offenses.”

Targeted fire or the dropping of explosive devices is often seen as a threat between different clans fighting over the traffic and its large financial stakes.

In Rotterdam, Hugo Hillenaar estimated that seizing 50 tons of cocaine would deprive street dealers of “approximately $3.5 billion” in prescriptions.

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