“Sol Prendido” for Borderland Beat
Dutch authorities intercepted three high-profile drug shipments from Mexico at Schiphol Airport in a month and a half. A total of 436 kilos of cocaine and 69 kilos of crystal meth were found in air cargo from Mexico. According to InSight Crime, there is “a new trend in drug trafficking to Europe.
(Image: the 300 kilos of coke intercepted at Schiphol on Nov. 27)
On Jan. 5, customs at Schiphol found 136 kilos of cocaine and 9 kilos of methamphetamine during a check of containers from Mexico. A month earlier, in early December, customs intercepted 60 kilos of crystal meth in air cargo from Mexico. This was a large quantity as Customs confiscated only 20 kilos of meth in all of 2021. On Nov. 27, Customs discovered 300 kilograms of cocaine in air cargo from Mexico. The compressed one-kilogram blocks were hidden in a panel carrying cargo.
The catch of 300 kilos was exceptional. Cocaine seizures at Schiphol Airport that were not brought in passengers’ luggage but elsewhere on an aircraft usually range between about 10 and 100 kilos. The three seizures, which took place within a six-week period, stem from investigative agencies’ concerns that Mexican drug traffickers are increasingly turning to Europe as an outlet.
In December, a joint report by Europol and DEA revealed growing cooperation between Mexican cartels and EU-based criminal networks to smuggle cocaine and methamphetamine into Europe. “Most often, drugs are hidden in food, building materials and equipment, as well as in other goods, such as water filters and wooden door frames,” the report said, suggesting that most incoming meth is re-exported to more lucrative destinations in Oceania.
Air freight on the rise?
While Mexican drug traffickers continue to enter their overseas markets, they seem to increasingly prefer air cargo to smuggle meth. That makes Schiphol, Europe’s third busiest cargo airport an important receiving point. Since 2021, most seizures of Mexican meth outside the Americas have involved air cargo, smuggling 50 to 200 kilograms of liquid meth or crystal meth at a time from Mexico City International Airport, according to InSight Crime.
2.5 tons of meth in Rotterdam
In June 2019, Dutch police found a record amount of 2.5 tons of Mexican meth in a hidden room in a Rotterdam office building. At the time, it was the largest ever find of the drug in Europe. Police estimated the street value of the batch at hundreds of millions of euros.
Mexican and Dutch networks
Since then, police have identified 17 Mexicans suspected of facilitating Dutch meth production, according to the police report, the narco-state of the Netherlands in 2021. The drug report shows that Mexican and Dutch networks cooperate not only in the production of methamphetamine but also in the large-scale importation of methamphetamine. Large consignments of methamphetamine are smuggled from Mexico to Europe. This is done through the lines that have long been used to smuggle cocaine.
Mexican networks provide transportation to Europe, after which Dutch networks provide reception. The leaders of the Dutch network keep in touch with the leaders within the Mexican network. The Mexicans provide skilled lab technicians called “cooks. These lab technicians mostly come from Mexico and are already present in Europe or are flown in from Latin America.
Not necessarily cartels
According to Belgian journalist Arthur Debruyne, Mexico correspondent for the Financieele Dagblad, the recent smuggling through Schiphol does not necessarily involve Mexican cartels behind it. Small and medium-sized Mexican smugglers are also trying to diversify destinations as a saturated U.S. market drives meth prices to record lows.
Debruyne to InSight Crime: “Last year I interviewed a drug trafficker in Culiacán, Sinaloa, who told me that smaller independent traffickers like him were increasingly looking to Europe – Spain and the Netherlands – to ship meth. And he was shipping smaller quantities like this, 10 kilos, 20 kilos, 30 kilos, by air freight.’
As for cocaine, the connection to Mexico is more surprising. American demand is increasingly shaky, but its geographic location should still make it the Mexican narco’s first choice. The Dutch police’s Drug Report 2021 shows that the Netherlands only seizes a few hundred kilos of cocaine a year from Mexico, so Schiphol’s 436 kilos in six weeks is extremely exceptional.
Most (standard) interceptions of cocaine shipments at Schiphol involve cocaine from Suriname, Aruba, and Curaçao, according to a 2020 analysis by Bureau Beke. More seizures of cocaine from Mexico at Schiphol could therefore indicate that the attraction of the European market is growing faster than expected.
It is a scenario the Dutch government is preparing for. In November, Dutch Justice and Security Minister Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius told the House of Representatives that by 2022, the cabinet has spent $14 million to strengthen controls at Schiphol Airport. That rises to $23.5 million in 2023 and $33.5 million in 2024.