Irish airspace and airports are being used to smuggle millions of euro worth of cocaine into Europe, a leading law enforcement agency has warned.
The annual report by Europol – the EU’s policing agency – says Ireland and Britain are amongst four main routes used by cocaine cartels to smuggle their drugs into Europe via air, Irish Mirror reports.
It had been previously thought that most of the cocaine in Europe was smuggled from Colombia and other South American countries to Europe via sea – but Europol’s Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment, or SOCTA, pinpoints air routes as a vital new supply pathway.
It warns: “Intra-EU trafficking of cocaine may also involve commercial flights, light aircraft and helicopters, railway, sea transport, and post and parcel services.
“Cocaine loads are often hidden in sophisticated concealed compartments in cars, trucks and other vehicles. These are also used to transport cashback to the distribution hubs.”
And the report, taken from intelligence from all 27 EU member states including from gardai, has even produced this map to show how cocaine is smuggled into Europe – and shows one air route pointed right at Ireland and Britain.
Sources said they could not discount cartels using private jets to smuggle large amounts of cocaine into Ireland for onward delivery to other European states.
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However, they claim it was most likely that they were using drug mules to bring smaller amounts on commercial flights from South America via third countries.
“I can think of a few times when there was intelligence about cocaine being flown in here in a decent scale,” a source said.
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“But I do not believe it is that common. Instead, I would suspect that individuals are getting on a plane in Colombia or Peru with cocaine in their luggage or swallowed in pellets.
“They would bring in a kilo or less at a time, but that is still worth €70,000.”
Just last year, the EU’s anti-drug unit MAOC-N – headed by former Garda Assistant Commissioner Michael O’Sullivan – intercepted an aircraft flying from South America to Europe with tens of millions of euro worth of cocaine in its cargo hold.
Speaking about Europol's findings, Portugal-based Mr O’Sullivan warned that the cocaine problem for Ireland and Europe would only get worse.
“We are facing a tsunami of cocaine,” he said.
“There is a huge market for it in Europe. Last year, MAOC-N seized some 22 tonnes of cocaine. In the first three months of 2021, we have already seized 19 tonnes.”
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