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Cocaine trafficking is an “even larger” problem than terrorism in Belgium, stated 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 informed the Monetary Instances that the EU wants joint extradition agreements and elevated 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 virtually 110 tonnes seized final 12 months, up from about 90 tonnes in 2021 and 66 tonnes in 2020, based on customs authorities.
“What the battle was towards Islamist terrorism seven/eight years in the past is now as we speak the battle towards organised crime,” Van Quickenborne stated, including that “the magnitude [of drug trafficking] is even larger” than terrorism due to the tons of of 1000’s of customers throughout Europe who’ve “blood on their noses”.
Van Quickenborne is underneath 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 count on one other document 12 months.
Antwerp’s development as a smuggling hub is a results of its sprawling measurement, which makes it troublesome to regulate, 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 medication commissioner, greater than 200 extra workers for police and customs, new container scanning tools in addition to background checks on 16,000 port staff.
Cocaine smuggling has risen since 2017. Belgian police spent “a number of vitality” on counter-terrorism within the wake of the 2016 assaults on Brussels, the minister stated. However drug trafficking was now “on the highest of each authorities [agenda] in Europe”, he stated.
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 international locations had struggled to get them extradited, Van Quickenborne stated. His nation signed an extradition accord with the UAE in 2021, which to date has proved ineffective.
“There needs to be extra European strain on the Emirates,” Van Quickenborne stated. “If I speak to my colleagues in Italy, Spain, Germany, France, all of them have a want checklist of the folks which might be hiding in Dubai and they don’t seem to be capable of 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 might assist us to place strain on Dubai,” he stated. He additionally referred to as for a “community of port prosecutors” to trade info.
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 stated it was “engaged in stepping up the efforts towards drug trafficking, together with cocaine within the EU”.
The pliability of felony teams means they may more and more transfer to completely different European ports, reminiscent of Hamburg, Le Havre and Valencia to evade tighter measures in Antwerp, based on Europol.
Van Quickenborne warned that it could be troublesome to fully stamp out the drug commerce, however stated he was “very decided to proceed our battle . . . [and] eradicate these drug criminals”.