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Cocaine and methamphetamine are linked to Mexican criminal groups emerging in the EU while rising violence and the appearance of fentanyl are potential future threats.

Europol and the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued a joint analysis report shedding light on the involvement of Mexican criminal actors in the EU drug market. The report shows that Mexican cartels and EU-based criminal networks have been working together to traffic both methamphetamine and cocaine from Latin America to the EU. This new form of criminal collaboration also extends to the production of methamphetamine and cocaine hydrochloride in some EU Member States. Despite no current indications of a fentanyl market in the EU, the discovery of fentanyl production facilities and seizures of the substance in the EU raises concerns over the development of a fentanyl market.

As the first joint publication of this kind, the report emphasizes the hand-in-glove approach between the agencies in the joint fight against global drug trafficking. Titled ‘Complexities and conveniences in the international drug trade: the involvement of Mexican criminal actors in the EU drug market’, the publication is a result of a systematic and continuous exchange of operational and strategic information.

Complexities and Conveniences in the International Drug Trade: the Involvement of Mexican Criminal Actors in the EU Drug Market

The EU drug landscape is populated by a diverse range of criminal
actors involved in the production, trafficking, and distribution of
a variety of illicit substances. These actors benefit from a number
of criminal enablers and facilitators in their operations. In recent
years, seizures of methamphetamine and cocaine linked to
Mexican criminal actors have emerged as a prominent feature of
the EU drug landscape. Mexican criminal actors and EU-based
criminal networks have been working together to traffic both of
these illicit drug types from Latin America to the EU. They have
also been cooperating to produce methamphetamine and cocaine
hydrochloride (HCl) in some EU Member States (EU MS). 
The trafficking network includes the cooks producing the drugs, brokers, and envoys facilitating its distribution, and logistics for smuggling and money laundering services.
Mexican criminal actors engaged in
the production of methamphetamine
at illicit production facilities or
working independently with
EU-based drug producers. 
Criminal facilitators are responsible for drug
purchases, transportation, and logistics. 
Criminal facilitators based in the EU,
North and Latin America, or other
regions of the world connect
Mexican drug suppliers with
wholesale distributors in the EU. 
Members of cartels who travel
to the EU to facilitate drug
transactions from Mexico
to EU MS. 
Criminal service providers based in
and outside of the EU who provide
illicit financial services to Mexican
cartels, repatriating millions of Euros
in drug proceeds to Mexico. 
In the United States, the influence of Mexican cartels over the
drug trade is deeply entrenched; they are heavily involved in
trafficking fentanyl, methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, and
The Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco New Generation
Cartel (CJNG) – the most violent and powerful Mexican criminal
organizations – consolidated control over drug corridors from
Mexico and expanded their activities within the US. Mexican
cartels have a history of establishing drug trafficking hubs, strong
criminal partnerships, and using violence to gain control over the
territory where they operate.
In the first initiative of this kind, the United States Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Europol engaged in transatlantic cooperation to issue a joint strategic product with the
aim of expanding the intelligence picture on the involvement of
Mexican criminal actors in the EU drug market.
Mexican cartels are known to cooperate with EU-based criminal
networks to traffic both methamphetamine and cocaine to EU
ports for further distribution in and outside of EU MS. Recent
seizures of methamphetamine trafficked from Mexico to the EU
include the interception of 2.5 tonnes of methamphetamine in
Spain in 2021, 1.5 tonnes of methamphetamine trafficked through
Croatia to Slovakia in 2020 and 1.9 tonnes of methamphetamine
seized in Rotterdam in 2019. 
It is likely that most of the
methamphetamine trafficked from Mexico to the EU only transits
the EU on the way to more profitable markets in Oceania and Asia
given the higher wholesale and retail prices of methamphetamine
in those regions.
In addition to the trafficking of methamphetamine, Mexican
cartels are also involved in smuggling large consignments of
cocaine to the EU. In February 2020, Italian law enforcement
authorities uncovered a drug trafficking operation run by the
Sinaloa Cartel, where cartel members and their EU-based
associates were trafficking drugs into and throughout the EU. 
For this operation, in particular, the cartel was planning to
establish cocaine smuggling routes from Colombia to airports
in southern Italy using private jets. Another law enforcement
operation, which concluded in 2021, revealed that a criminal
network based in Spain worked with the Beltrán Leyva Organization.



Complexities and conveniences in the international drug trade: the involvement of Mexican criminal actors in the EU drug market Europol-DEA public document
Organisation to traffic 1.3 metric tons of cocaine and 2.5 metric tons of
methamphetamine to Spain, concealed in blocks of cellular
thermal concrete.
Working together with their EU counterparts, Mexican cartels
generally use maritime shipments and air cargo for smuggling
larger quantities of drugs from Latin America to the EU.
Concealment within legal commodities is the most frequently used
method to smuggle large drug consignments. Most often, drugs
are concealed in food, construction materials, and equipment
as well as other commodities, such as water filters and wooden
Once the drugs are received at EU entry points, local criminal
networks cooperating with the Mexican cartels are responsible
for moving the drug loads to their final destinations. Ferries and
overland transportation via vehicles with hidden compartments
and tractor-trailers are most common. For smaller, retail amounts,
post and parcel services are also used for smuggling drugs from
Mexico to EU MS. 
On numerous occasions, Mexican criminal actors have been
apprehended at methamphetamine production sites in the EU:
 In 2019, Dutch Police dismantled three illicit methamphetamine
manufacturing laboratories in which Mexican and other Latin
American suspects were apprehended. Mexican criminal
involvement was also suspected in two other cases that
In 2019, the Federal Police in Belgium dismantled one
illicit methamphetamine laboratory in which three Mexican
suspects and a Colombian suspect were apprehended. 
In 2020,
Dutch law enforcement reported nine additional dismantled
methamphetamine production facilities in which Mexican,
Colombian and Dominican nationals were arrested.



Mexican laboratory specialists operating in the EU use unique production methods and are involved in particular stages of methamphetamine production. By using specific chemical substances, they are able to recycle and reduce chemical waste
generated during the production cycle, ultimately achieving
increased profits and higher yields of a very potent end product.
These Mexican “cooks” are important for the EU-based
methamphetamine production sites because of their unique
knowledge and ability to produce larger and more profitable
crystals of methamphetamine. 
While the direct affiliation of Mexican suspects apprehended
at methamphetamine manufacturing sites to specific Mexican
criminal groups is not always clear, some cases point to links
with Mexican cartels. In the case of joint methamphetamine
manufacturing with Dutch drug producers, the leadership of
Dutch and Mexican cartels allegedly arrange Mexican laboratory
technicians for the Dutch production facilities by either
commissioning Mexican “cooks” who are already in the EU or
by arranging their travel to the EU from Latin America.
In some
other cases, it may be that Dutch criminal networks approach
Mexican lab technicians independently. These lab technicians
work as freelancers and may be connected with Dutch criminal
networks through brokers.
Some indications have pointed to Mexican criminal groups being
involved in the operation of cocaine conversion laboratories on the
territory of the EU.
In order to facilitate their drug trafficking operations and ensure
that they remain under the radar of law enforcement, Mexican
criminal groups and their EU-based criminal partners turn to
a series of enablers. Both Mexican cartels and EU-based drug
trafficking networks corrupt officials in the public and private
sectors to increase the likelihood of successfully smuggling drug
consignments through transportation hubs in both Latin America
and the EU.
Legal business structures are exploited in drug trafficking
operations, both in cocaine and methamphetamine trafficking
from Latin America to the EU. Companies enable the smuggling
of drugs to EU MS and obscure trafficking from law enforcement.


EU-based traffickers and Mexican cartels infiltrate existing
businesses and set up new front or shell companies, at times
with the help of individuals (strawmen) who knowingly or
unknowingly conceal a criminal’s true identity. In order to
protect their equities and avoid detection from law enforcement,
drug traffickers frequently infiltrate and execute their criminal
operations using multiple companies, which further obfuscates
their illicit activities. Drug traffickers infiltrate transportation
and trade companies in order to conceal drug shipments
via air cargo, maritime vessels, or over land using vehicles and
Mexican cartels involved in drug trafficking to and in the EU use
illicit financial services provided by criminal service providers
based in and outside of the EU, repatriating millions of Euros in
drug proceeds to Mexico.
Money launderers servicing Mexican
cartels use a variety of techniques for the facilitation of illicit
finances, including the use of cryptocurrencies, trade-based money
laundering, and underground banking systems.
Drug proceeds
obtained are also laundered through the criminal infiltration
of companies, where illicit funds are moved through a range of
different jurisdictions.
Cooperation between Mexican criminal actors and EU-based
criminal networks may continue to develop. Such cooperation
may take the form of Mexican drug producers sharing expertise
with their EU-based counterparts, supporting the establishment of
EU-based production laboratories, and reinvesting drug proceeds
obtained from the EU methamphetamine and cocaine trade into
new, profitable criminal opportunities. Additionally, Mexican
cartels may attempt to set up methamphetamine production
laboratories and cocaine extraction sites outside of the traditional
manufacturing sites in the EU. 
Mexican criminal groups may also attempt to broaden the
portfolio of drugs trafficked to the EU by either trafficking
them to the EU drug market or by assisting in the production of
those drugs, like fentanyl, in the EU. The discovery of fentanyl
production facilities and fentanyl analogs in the EU, together
with some seizures of fentanyl and related precursors in some EU
MS, raises concerns over the development of a fentanyl market. However, there are currently no concrete indications that Mexican cartels are cooperating with EU-based criminal networks to traffic or produce fentanyl for the EU consumer market. 



The EU’s most recent Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment showed that 65% of criminal groups active in the EU are composed of members of multiple nationalities. The presence of Mexican criminal actors collaborating with EU-based actors in the EU drug market follows this trend.
An increased presence of Mexican cartels in the EU could result in
increased violence and increased profits for Mexican cartels and
the EU-based criminal networks working with them. Europol and
the DEA will continue to monitor and share information on the
involvement of Mexican criminal actors in the methamphetamine
and cocaine markets in the EU, as well as any warning signs that
may point to additional drug trafficking or other illicit activities.
The DEA and Europol will continue to act in concert in monitoring and fighting these developments.