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Cocaine trafficking is an “even greater” problem than terrorism in Belgium, mentioned the nation’s justice minister, who referred to as on the EU to hurry up worldwide co-operation to assist catch drug lords hiding overseas.
Vincent Van Quickenborne advised the Monetary Instances that the EU wants joint extradition agreements and enhance co-operation amongst ports to fight worldwide trafficking networks. Belgium’s port metropolis of Antwerp is the most important cocaine trafficking hub in Europe, with a document of just about 110 tonnes seized final 12 months, up from about 90 tonnes in 2021 and 66 tonnes in 2020, in response to customs authorities.
“What the battle was in opposition to Islamist terrorism seven/eight years in the past is now right now the battle in opposition to organised crime,” Van Quickenborne mentioned, including that “the magnitude [of drug trafficking] is even greater” than terrorism due to the lots of of hundreds of customers throughout Europe who’ve “blood on their noses”.
Van Quickenborne is beneath police safety after felony gangs tried to kidnap him and his household final September
Cocaine seizures in Belgium within the first half of 2023 rose 21 per cent in comparison with the identical interval in 2022, and customs authorities anticipate one other document 12 months.
Antwerp’s progress as a smuggling hub is a results of its sprawling dimension, which makes it troublesome to manage, in addition to a considerable amount of container shipments arriving from Latin America, the place cocaine manufacturing has elevated over the previous seven years.
In February, the Belgian authorities introduced new measures to battle the felony networks, together with appointing a devoted medicine commissioner, greater than 200 extra employees for police and customs, new container scanning gear in addition to background checks on 16,000 port workers.
Cocaine smuggling has risen since 2017. Belgian police spent “loads of vitality” on counter-terrorism within the wake of 2016 assaults on Brussels, the minister mentioned. However drug trafficking was now “on the highest of each authorities [agenda] in Europe”, he mentioned.
In recent times, a number of kingpins overseeing the unlawful commerce have moved to places together with the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to evade prosecution. Authorities in Belgium and different EU nations had struggled to get them extradited, Van Quickenborne mentioned. His nation signed an extradition accord with the UAE in 2021, which up to now has proved ineffective.
“There ought to be extra European stress on the Emirates,” Van Quickenborne mentioned. “If I speak to my colleagues in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, all of them have a want listing of the folks which can be hiding in Dubai and they don’t seem to be in a position to transfer to see them extradited to Europe.”
Extradition or different authorized agreements facilitating cross-border prosecution “popping out of Europe as a substitute of on a bilateral foundation may assist us to place stress on Dubai,” he mentioned. He additionally referred to as for a “community of port prosecutors” to change data.
Dutch, German, French, Italian, Spanish and Belgian ministers met in Antwerp in June to debate organised crime, the place they signed a declaration supporting an EU-wide method.
The European Fee declined to touch upon Van Quickenborne’s name for motion however mentioned it was “engaged in stepping up the efforts in opposition to drug trafficking, together with cocaine within the EU”.
The pliability of felony teams means they might more and more transfer to completely different European ports, equivalent to Hamburg, Le Havre and Valencia to evade tighter measures in Antwerp, in response to Europol.
Van Quickenborne warned that it might be troublesome to utterly stamp out the drug commerce, however mentioned he was “very decided to proceed our battle . . . [and] eradicate these drug criminals”.