“Socalj” and “HEARST” for Borderland Beat

The so-called Super Cartel importing 1/3 of the cocaine into Europe included multi-ethnic crime groups working together. Only its head, Irish-born Daniel Kinahan remains free and is wanted by multiple agencies including the US.
In November 2022, the Bosnian crime lord Edin “Tito” Gačanin, the Panamanian cocaine boss Anthony “Hassan” Martínez Meza, and the British drug trafficker Ryan “Robo” James Hale were all arrested in Dubai for their criminal involvement in a “Super Cartel,” which is alleged to control about one-third of the cocaine trade in Europe.

The criminal network had two separate structures, one for importing the cocaine into Europe and the other for laundering the proceeds. The large amount of cocaine that the Super Cartel is suspected of shipping into Europe in recent years, is worth an estimated €30 billion. Spanish police say the mega cartel managed to send 10 metric tons of cocaine, worth €760 million through that country in the span of just the last two years.

The Operation

The arrests were a part of “Operation Desert Light”, an effort coordinated by Europol, who worked with law enforcement agencies in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates as well as help from the US DEA to take down a majority of the group.

Over the last two years, Europol has been hosting secret meetings between the aforementioned law enforcement agencies which were focused on taking down the “Super Cartel”. The agencies convened together more than ten times and the United States reportedly provided intelligence support to the endeavor.

The meetings had previously led to Operation 26 Grange, Operation Senna, Operation Faukas, Operation Zapoi, and Operation Le Chiffre, which arrested 46 alleged criminals in total, three of which were considered to be high-value targets. More than €500,000 were confiscated during the Spanish police operation, along with three weapons and high-end cars. The Civil Guard says some of the vehicles were worth around €300,000.

The Spanish part of the operation, dubbed Operation Faukas, had begun with the seizure of a container containing nearly 700 kilos of cocaine in the port of Valencia in March 2020 but there were no arrests at the time.

“This gave rise to a large interchange of information, under the Europol umbrella, with other countries’ police forces which resulted in the identification of the people in charge of the introduction of the drugs into the container as well as the ‘contamination’ of the container at the port of origin in Panama,” an official in Spain said. 

During the probe, investigators were able to establish that a criminal organization was smuggling containers with cocaine inside through the ports of Barcelona, Valencia, and Algeciras. At the same time, a complex real estate business set-up had been created on the Costa del Sol to launder the proceeds of the profits obtained from the drug smuggling.

On November 28, 2022, Europol put out a press release announcing they had recently conducted Operation Desert Light, which arrested 3 high-value target leaders located in Dubai. The arrests took place between November 8-19, 2022.

In their press release, they said that the “drug kingpins considered as high-value targets by Europol had come together to form what was known as a ‘Super Cartel’ which controlled around one-third of the cocaine trade in Europe.”

They added that “The scale of cocaine importation into Europe under the suspects’ control and command was massive and over 30 metric tons of drugs were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigations.” Europol says the operation focused on taking down both the organizers and the people involved in the everyday-level logistics for the group.

Capos in the Super Cartel

So, let’s review some of the prominent high-value targets which made up this “Super Cartel.” Police first noticed the connection in Dubai between the criminal groups and coined the term back in 2017 as several members had attended the wedding at the Burj Al Arab Hotel of Irish drug kingpin Daniel Kinahan, leader of the Kinahan Clan founded in Ireland, then based in Spain and Dubai up until recently.

Prior to this, it was largely believed that European organized crime groups worked independently. The partners are believed to have jointly invested in mega-shipments in order to spread out liabilities and risks and increase profits. One of the seizures attributed to the group contained almost 18 tons of cocaine that was seized in Philadelphia en route to the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in 2019.

Edin “Tito” Gačanin

Tito & Dino Clan

Edin would purchase wholesale quantities of cocaine from partners like the now-dismantled Colombian Norte del Valle Cartel and independent Peruvian producers, according to a Bosnian police official. He was initially based in the Netherlands, is also a citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and was arrested in Dubai during the operation.

He is also charged with importing 8,000 kilos of raw chemicals used as precursors in the production of amphetamines. The materials entered Europe via the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, and were directed to the Netherlands. A criminal investigation was started against him after authorities intercepted Sky ECC messages. “Due to the Sky chats, it is also suspected that the man was involved as organizer, broker, and financier in the import of 739.5 kilos of cocaine from Durban (South Africa) to Rotterdam,” they added. “This also includes a batch of approximately 1,800 kilos of cocaine imported via the port of Hamburg, Germany in 2020 with a destination in the Netherlands,” Dutch police said.

Ridouan Taghi 

Moroccan Mafia/Angels of Death

Ridouan Taghi allegedly sent some of his closest allies to South America to negotiate cocaine deals.  One top lieutenant, Saïd Razzouki, was arrested in Medellín, Colombia, in 2020 while allegedly operating under the protection of Los Urabeños. Other Taghi allies were arrested in SurinameHe himself was arrested in Dubai in 2019 and is currently on trial in the Netherlands for multiple murders.

Raffaele Imperiale 

Raffaele Imperiale has worked as a broker with some of Italy’s largest mafia groups, such as Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta. He got his start under the Di Lauro Clan in Naples, Italy, and aligned with the Scissionisti di Secondigliano during the internal Camorra war and split in 2004. He also worked with Colombian groups, including Los Urabeños, also known as the Clan del Golfo or the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia – AGC). He was arrested in Dubai in 2021 and extradited back to Italy.

Anthony “Hassan” Alfredo Martínez Meza

Martínez Meza, who is originally from Panama, was believed to be acting as the group’s supplier of cocaine. Based in Dubai, he chartered ships loaded with drugs from the port of Manzanillo, in Panama into Spain. Martínez, according to the European authorities, seemed to be off the radar of the Panamanian authorities. He is listed in public registries as a director of numerous companies in Colon, Panama.

In Panama, the ports have become a safe route for traffickers, given the connections managed locally by two criminal groups that are in charge of receiving, moving, and protecting narcotics while on Panamanian soil. Authorities suspect that he has helped import 10 tons of cocaine into Spain, with the aid of British citizen Ryan James Hale.

Ryan “Robo” James Hale

Kinahan Clan

The 32-year-old British drug trafficker linked to the Irish Kinahan clan was arrested in Dubai as well, in November 2022. He was wanted by Spanish authorities for having laundered €24 million in drug money, buying property and high-end sports cars including a €300,000 Lamborghini in Marbella, Spain. Hale was regarded by Spain’s Civil Guard as the leader of the group there before fleeing to Dubai because he feared arrest and being kidnapped by rival organized crime groups.
His wife, still living in Spain, has proclaimed to the press that he is “totally innocent” and not involved in the Super Cartel. He spent many years working for one of the UK’s leading construction companies before a career in property development and moving to Marbella. There is no information whatsoever that the real estate company where he worked is involved.
Daniel Kinahan
Kinahan Clan

The Kinahan gang played a “key coordinating role” in the Super Cartel. Daniel Kinahan had turned to Los Urabeños after another cocaine supply route set up by Dutch-Chilean Ricardo “El Rico” Riquelme was dismantled upon Riquelme’s arrest in 2017. Kinahan partnered with Panamanian Anthony Alfredo Martínez Meza as well, shipping cocaine from Panama’s port of Manzanillo to Spain. 

Money launderer for the Kinahan’s John Morrissey was arrested in Spain earlier this year.
Recently as well, several money launders in the UK, Spain, and Ireland, linked to the Kinahan clan have been arrested. In September 2022, “Johnny Cash” Morrissey was arrested in Spain where police said the raid smashed the gang’s operations there, accusing Morrissey of helping to launder some £300,000 per day. They alleged that cash had not been physically moved out of Spain but spread throughout the world using an ancient money transfer system called Hawala.
It is alleged that the Kinahan family is putting the blame for some of their recent attention and sanctions on Morrissey, who is believed to be the indirect owner via his wife Nicola Morrissey, of Nero Vodka. The US government alleges that Morrissey handed over the ownership stake of Nero Drinks to Daniel Kinahan as compensation for failed drug shipments.

Thomas “Bomber” Kavanagh was the Kinahan’s long-time head of operations in the UK. He was sentenced in 2022 to 21 years for smuggling £30 million worth of cocaine and cannabis hidden inside industrial equipment. Police who raided his bullet-proofed mansion in Tamworth, near Birmingham, also found hauls of cash and weapons. His conviction marked the downfall of the UK branch of operations.

The Kinahan Clan family members are the only ones left from the Super Cartel. But how long they can avoid authorities while under US sanctions is up for debate. It was reported Daniel and possibly his father Christy Sr. and brother Christy Jr. may have fled from Dubai in search of a safe haven in Asia. All three have $5 million USD rewards for their captures.

Dubai Became a Safe Haven for Criminals

The central base for all of the Super Cartel traffickers was Dubai until recently. Dubai’s reputation as a safe haven for criminals is certainly being re-examined. The United Arab Emirates signed a liaison agreement with Europol in September, which proved crucial to the recent arrests. However, “To an extent, the UAE authorities do not want to look at it too hard because there’s billions of criminal money being invested in Dubai,” one European intelligence officer told VICE News

Antwerp Became the Epicenter of European Drug Trafficking

The investigations revealed, however, that Spain was only one of the entry routes for the drug into Europe, and that the Super Cartel also introduced important shipments through the ports of Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Antwerp (Belgium).

Belgian customs officers have seized so much cocaine that it is causing a backlog for the country’s incinerators, with police now concerned that the stockpile could become a target for criminals. 40% of all cocaine seizures in the European Union have taken place in Antwerp, including 100 metric tons in 2021 alone. It is difficult to burn them in bulk “as this would cause issues with the filters at the incineration plant.”

The port of Antwerp, Europe’s second-largest, is on track to seize 110 tons of the drug this year, Flemish broadcaster VRT reported. This would have a street value of at least $5.1 billion, according to The Brussels Times, making its destruction a matter of urgency. The locations of the country’s specially licensed incinerators are kept under careful wraps. A Van Quickenborne spokesman has said the seized drugs are “closely monitored.”

[embedded content]

49 Arrests Across Europe & Middle-East

It was revealed that 49 people were arrested as part of Operation Desert Light aimed at taking down the Super Cartel, including seven so-called ‘High-Value Targets.’ These arrests are the culmination of parallel investigations run in Spain, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UAE with the support of Europol and the DEA into the activities of this prolific criminal network involved in large-scale drug trafficking and money laundering.

The Civil Guard in Spain carried out raids on November 8th in Malaga, Madrid, and Barcelona resulting in the arrest of 15 people, including three of the high-level targets. They said the operation began with the seizure, by the Civil Guard, of a container in the Port of Valencia in March 2020, through which they intended to smuggle 698kg of cocaine from Panama.

A video released by Europol showcasing the operation included footage of luxury cars at Magna Supercars in Marbella, implying the business and the cars were part of the criminal conspiracy. But Europol had to make a new version of the video with the name of the business blurred out at the request of the Civil Guard who provided the footage as the owner of Magna Supercars was not involved in the busts.


13 Arrests with 2 High-Value Targets Arrested in Dubai at Spain’s Request

6 arrests with 2 High-Value Targets Arrested in Dubai at Frances Request

High-Value Targets Arrested

14 Arrests in 2021 with 2 High-Value Targets Arrested in Dubai at Dutch Request10 Arrests


No Arrests During This Operation

Detectives from Finglas Garda Station searched a residential complex in the area and seized €210,000 of cocaine as well as a German-made Sig-Sauer assault rifle and the Czech-made Skorpion machine pistol, as well as ammunition for the weapons and a silencer. There were no arrests, but gardai continued to investigate the gang and made another move against them the following week.