It was not the first time that police officers of the Thessaloniki Narcotics Prosecution found themselves in front of such a large load of cocaine. This time, however, the quantity was admittedly spectacular: e.gmore than half a ton of high-purity cocaine, the largest amount ever seized in Thessaloniki.

During the presentation of the case by the Police, the parcels – “bricks” with the specific narcotic substance, more than 585 kg, they formed a hill. All the parcels had symbols on them – including the Nazi swastika – which seems to refer to the practice of Latin American cartels to identify the quantities of cocaine they produce in their laboratories.

The mammoth cargo information reached the Greek Authorities through the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) office in Athens. It was not officially known how and when the drugs arrived, but it is considered certain that the cargo was transported by coastal ferry to the port of Thessaloniki. It was received by members of a ring who traveled to Greece from Albania, where it appears the “base” of their criminal activity is located, with the aim of “exporting” most of the illegal cargo to the neighboring country from where it would be trafficked to other European countries . But they didn’t make it.

Police officers of the General Affairs Department of the Thessaloniki Narcotics Prosecution Sub-Directorate were following the suspicious movements of the involved persons – members of the criminal organization and after a gigantic operation that culminated last Thursday arrested a total of five people: four Albanians and one Greek (with roots from Albania). Among them are an androgynous (50 and 42 years old) and their two nieces (21 and 33 years old).

Those arrested were referred to a special narcotics investigator and given a deadline, facing felony charges for forming and joining a criminal organization, trafficking in narcotics, jointly and professionally (in the form of importing, storing, possessing and transporting).

The “stock market” of cocaine

As it became known during the presentation of the case by the Police, the confiscated quantity is estimated to be in the wholesale range from 11 to 33 million euros, while in retail, if it is adulterated and “broken” into smaller portions, it can even reach 175 million . euro. From court documents of respective cases it appears that the transportation costs for each kilo of cocaine amount to 2,000 euros, while the “reward” to middlemen who are usually corrupt government officials amounts to 5,000 euros, that help in the action of the circuits – for example they turn a blind eye to the export of legal goods from the producing countries. Hence, each kilo of cocaine costs around 12,000 euros in the circuits.

Regarding the sale price, according to the same documents, in Greek territory it is estimated that when cocaine is sold wholesale (usually in quantities of more than 5 kg), its value ranges from 32,000 to 60,000 euros per kilo. On the contrary, when it is sold in parts, i.e. at retail, if it is adulterated and “broken” into several installments, its price starts from 60,000 and approaches 120,000 euros, per kilo.

The role of the port of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki and its port seem to have entered for good in recent years on the “map” of the importation of large quantities of cocaine, originating from Latin American countries. It is characteristic that from January 2021 until today, quantities exceeding one and a half tons of cocaine have been seized in the city – on various occasions – with the recent finding of 585 kilograms being a “record” amount in its annals.

“Circuits are looking for ways to import their illegal payloads. The ports of the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Germany are “hubs” for importing large quantities of cocaine into Europe. We have to accept, however, that there is also traffic from Thessaloniki. That is why we are trying to develop our own operational capabilities, to “hit” these circuits and make Greece less attractive,” said an officer of the Hellenic Police, speaking to APE-MPE. with knowledge of such cases.

However, it is estimated that most of the quantities that arrive directly or through intermediate stations at the port of Thessaloniki from the production ports in Latin America, are mainly destined for the Balkan countries or other countries of the Old Continent and only small quantities remain for trafficking in Greek territory. Under these conditions, the city is characterized as a “transit center” for cocaine, say police officers.

The previous cargoes of cocaine: the doctor, the British, the innkeepers and the orphan cargo

Before the case that was revealed last week, two other large loads of cocaine (104 and 161 kg) had been detected – consecutively within a few weeks, in May and June. Both were linked to a circuit, whose “responsible mind”, according to EL.AS announcements, is a 68-year-old doctor, who had previously engaged the authorities in fuel and cigarette smuggling cases. The drugs arrived at the port of Thessaloniki, with the country of origin being Ecuador. They were placed in containers carrying bananas, while the recipient company of the illegal cargo appeared to be a “ghost” company with an alleged headquarters in the city of Skopje. Of the ten arrested, nine were deemed temporary detainees after their apologies to the interrogator. The members of this particular criminal organization seem to have used a new method of concealment to transport the drugs, placing the illegal goods in special crypts (tunnels) of the containers and for this reason, a few hours of work was carried out in the containers to export the cocaine.

A year earlier, in June 2022, there was the seizure of 300 kilograms of cocaine that led to the arrest of four British nationals, whose trial is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks at the Criminal Court of Thessaloniki. The drugs had been imported, through the port of Thessaloniki, in a container carrying a legal cargo of bananas from Colombia. The English defendants had set up their “headquarters” in a luxurious mansion in the heart of Thessaloniki, from where they intended to transport the cocaine to Central and Northern Europe and Australia. This particular ring – in which another of their compatriots held in Dutch prisons is said to play a leading role – appears to be connected to another large shipment of cocaine (654 kg), which had been seized in a port in Calabria, Italy, and was destined for Thessaloniki.

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the second “quarantine”, police officers of the Thessaloniki Narcotics Prosecution had seized in January 2021 the largest – until then – load of cocaine. It was about 324 kilograms of this narcotic substance, a case for which two expatriates from Albania and a Serbian citizen had been arrested in the area of ​​Xyladiki, Thessaloniki. The case was tried at first instance, with the court sentencing the first two – according to their declaration, co-owners of a company that rents out a hotel in Rhodes – to life imprisonment, while the third was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

“These quantities do not come to Greece to take… walks. It is considered certain that they came from Latin America” ​​an experienced member of the Thessaloniki Narcotics Prosecution testified at the trial. The defendants, who were sentenced to life imprisonment, denied any connection to drugs, pointing out that they “went up” to Northern Greece to buy “machinery” and “mattresses” for their hotel, while they named a person who – as they claimed – “set a trap” for them.

In contrast to the above, the Serb, to whom the mitigating factor of common-law life was recognized, accepted his involvement in the case. “I recognize the offense, I admit that I am guilty. I was offered to go to Greece to do something illegal. I was in need because of debts. I knew roughly that it was drugs, but I didn’t know the quantity or the type of substance” he had apologized.

Another Serb was involved in the same case who, during the police operation, managed to escape by jumping from an apartment balcony.

The cargo of 100 kg of cocaine seized in March 2022 in Northern Greece is still considered an orphan. The cargo had arrived at the port of Thessaloniki on a route from Malta, camouflaged inside a container with bananas from Ecuador. He was located with the help of a specially trained dog and was subsequently placed under discreet surveillance. It was established that it was transported to the premises of a fruit trading company based in Imathia. The prosecuting authorities made eight arrests, among them a businessman and three employees, a driver and three customs officers. All of them denied any connection with drugs, declaring ignorance of the contents of the container. They were eventually released without conditions.

The “palmare” of the Thessaloniki Narcotics Prosecution includes two more large Latin American loads that were revealed in May 2011 and July of the following year – 293 and 168 kilograms respectively. Catalytic was then the information that reached the Greek Authorities through the DEA, as in all the above cases of cocaine trafficking. The main defendants in the first case were three Argentine nationals (including a woman) who were sentenced by the Court of Appeal to 6 years in prison each.

In the other case, central figures were a Bulgarian businessman, a Spaniard and a Portuguese. Their case had reached the Supreme Court after an appeal by a prosecutor for the granting of leniency, thanks to which they “broke” the life sentences in the appellate trial before the Court of Appeal. They were eventually re-sentenced to life imprisonment, but in the meantime, the first two had been released on parole having served most of their sentences.

European research

According to the latest report (2022) of the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), in 2020 the EU member states reported 64,000 cocaine seizures yielding 213 tons (202 tons in 2019). Belgium (70 tonnes), the Netherlands (49 tonnes) and Spain (37 tonnes) account for almost 75% of the total amount seized. In 2020 the average purity of cocaine at retail level across Europe ranged from 31% to 80%, while for half of the reporting countries the average purity ranged from 54% to 68%.

The purity of cocaine follows an upward trend in the last decade, while in 2020 a level 40% higher than in 2010 was recorded.