Gardaí in US and Colombia help to investigate drug cartels  

Gardaí in US and Colombia help to investigate drug cartels  

New garda liaison officers in Colombia and North America have made a “huge difference” in the flow of information about cocaine trafficking, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has said.

He said he was “very concerned” at the scale of cocaine trafficking into Europe from South America and said garda-organised crime units worked closely with international agencies to combat the booming trade.

His comments follow the publication of a major report on the cocaine market, produced jointly by the EU drug and police agencies.

The report found that Irish crime networks were “very large wholesalers” of cocaine in Europe and store significant hauls of cocaine in “EU distribution hubs”.

The report — EU Drug Markets: Cocaine — painted a stark picture of a booming global and European cocaine trade. It documents:

  • Record amounts of cocaine were seized in the EU in 2020 — almost 215 tonnes — the fourth consecutive year of record seizures;
  • Cocaine availability is probably at “an all-time high” and more affordable than in the past;
  • Initial reports show 2020 seizures were surpassed in 2021, with more than 240 tonnes seized last year in the four main EU countries for cocaine importation;
  • The EU cocaine retail market is estimated to be worth at least €10.5bn, considered to be an underestimate;
  • While Covid-19 restrictions resulted in a large decrease in cocaine seizures at retail level and a dramatic decrease in airline cocaine couriers, the overall cultivation, production, and trafficking of cocaine did not drop and may even have risen;
  • There is a “worrying” increase in the production of cocaine within Europe, with Latin American and European gangs in partnership;
  • Mexican cartels — such as the Beltrán-Leyva and Sinaloa — are increasingly involved in supplying cocaine into Europe;
  • Concerns at the possible emergence in Europe of new “inexpensive” smokable cocaine products — different to crack — which is common in South America.

The report was published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction and Europol, the EU police cooperation agency.

The report specifically mentions the Kinahan crime cartel as one of the Irish criminal networks involved in cocaine trafficking at a large scale. It said the “notorious” cartel has been linked with 20 murders across four European countries — Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands, and Belgium — and was part of a wider worsening of violence in the cocaine trade.

Commenting on the report, Commissioner Harris said: “We are obviously very concerned at the prevalence of cocaine and its trafficking into Europe. And we’re also very aware of the involvement then of organised crime groups, which have an Irish origin, responsible for that trafficking.”

He said gardaí — in particular the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau — worked very closely with international partners, in particular in the US and Canada.

The commissioner cited the expansion of the number of garda liaison officers — from four to six — in the last year or so, with two new ones in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, and Washington DC. They are in addition to the officers working in London, Paris, Madrid, and the Hague.

Colombia is the biggest producer of cocaine and the source of the majority of cocaine into Europe, with Colombian gangs working closely with European gangs, both in Colombia and in Europe.

“We ourselves have stretched out internationally with liaison officers in Bogotá and Washington, and that’s made a huge difference in terms of information flow around criminal gangs, trafficking, and drugs,” he said.

“Last month, we made a very significant announcement in respect of the so-called Kinahan OCG [organised crime group].

“We’re also very conscious of the impact of cocaine and other drugs locally and we have a dedicated drug teams in every division to deal with local dealers and pretty major dealers as well at a local level.”

Kylie Tyler

Attended Missouri State University. BOS in Journalism. Writing & journalism seminars, classes continued education, online forums, and skill enhancement. :) Love Free Press!

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