A Mexican drug trafficking ring with ties to the country’s cartels ran marijuana plantations and cocaine processing labs in Spain, demonstrating how Mexican criminal groups are becoming more entrenched in Europe’s booming drug trade.
According to a June 4 press release from the Spanish National Police, more than 200 officers conducted raids in the central Spanish provinces of Madrid and Guadalajara that ended with the arrests of two dozen people and the seizure of a ton of marijuana and 37 kilograms of cocaine.
A Mexican crime family linked to the country’s cartels ran the drug ring after using $10 million in cash and gold to set up shop in Spain’s capital, Madrid, according to the police press release. The investigation was launched after various Mexican nationals from the state of Sinaloa began occupying luxury homes in 2020.
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Agents, police say, observed the family members running large illegal marijuana farms in Guadalajara, where they were visited by drug dealers. The harvested marijuana was exported to legitimate companies in Portugal and Switzerland, who extracted cannabidiol (CBD) from the marijuana buds for the legal market.
Meanwhile, coca base was smuggled out of South America by courier, after which it was processed into cocaine in clandestine laboratories run by the Sinaloa family clan. The cocaine was then sold to Dutch and Croatian traffickers or diverted to a local distribution network that also included Chinese nationals.
InSight Crime Analysis
Spain has long been the gateway for criminal migration by Mexican groups and drug trafficking to Europe, with methamphetamine and cocaine shipments increasingly crossing the Atlantic due to rising demand. However, the Madrid-based Mexican ring appeared to be opening new doors in the drug trade.
First, as InSight Crime reported in May 2022, the smuggling of coca base into Europe for local processing is an evolving practice that remains primarily in Colombian hands. Mexican traffickers are also generally not involved in local distribution.
Laurent Laniel, scientific analyst at the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), warned in an interview with InSight Crime in May 2022 about the entry of Mexican groups into the European drug trade.
“The theoretical situation of Mexican groups settling in Europe poses a kind of threat that could turn out to be very bad and potentially lead to a sharp increase in violence and corruption,” he said.
Second, the involvement of Mexican criminals in European marijuana cultivation is novel.
Spain is already one of the largest illicit marijuana producers in Europe, and it’s also the main transit corridor for globally significant quantities of hashish — potent marijuana resin — smuggled out of Morocco.
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The latest Mexican nationals and marijuana case in Spain involved trafficking in hashish from the North African country. In October 2021, Spanish law enforcement dismantled a group that was using Mexican pilots to smuggle the drug by helicopter.
However, the latest case takes on a new dimension as the Sinaloa family clan cultivated marijuana to infiltrate Europe’s legal economy, providing the raw material for CBD products that are currently booming.
In a way, the move reflects a development not just in Spain, but also in Mexico’s own marijuana trade. Since 2013, the proliferation of marijuana legalization in the US has decimated demand for illicit Mexican cannabis, making it “barely profitable,” according to a senior Sinaloa cartel agent.
One result has been the small but growing production of marijuana concentrates such as CBD oil, for which Mexican crime groups can find a growing consumer market.
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