Home » Belgium Tackles Criminal Gangs Shipping Drugs to South America by Courier
Crime News South America

Belgium Tackles Criminal Gangs Shipping Drugs to South America by Courier

Belgium is trying to stop criminal gangs from turning the country into an export hub for synthetic drugs destined for the US and Latin America, according to the new narcotics czar in Brussels.

While the European Union has long focused on stopping traffickers from bringing illicit substances like cocaine into the bloc through Belgian ports, it’s traditionally been less concerned about contraband moving in the other direction. But with rising drug-related violence, Belgian authorities are waking up to the global demand for synthetic drugs produced in Europe.

European authorities are aware that criminals are manufacturing these drugs in the EU and then using regular postal services to export them around the world, according to Belgian officials and data from Europol and the EU’s drugs monitoring agency.

“Belgium is getting quite a bad reputation as an export country, and a producing country, for synthetic drugs,” Ine van Wymersch, Belgium’s drugs commissioner, said in an interview. Van Wymersch took up the newly established post in April, coordinating efforts on a national level to tackle illegal drugs in Belgium.

Just last week, the fanciest shopping street in Brussels was riddled with bullets during the dinner hour in a suspected drug-related shooting that left five people injured. And on Tuesday, Belgian authorities conducted raids across southern Belgium and arrested twelve people as part of an investigation into the production and storage of synthetic drugs, according to the Belga news service.

Although small, Belgium, along with the Netherlands, plays an outsize role in the continent’s illegal drugs market. It’s home to a major European port in Antwerp and a high-concentration of illicit production, making its policies an important part of the European response.

Van Wymersch said criminals are using ordinary logistics companies “to send these synthetic drugs all over the world.”

The European Commission is also trying to beef up cooperation between national law enforcement agencies within the bloc, a spokesman said. Belgium’s local and federal police forces have set up a specialist project to tackle drug trafficking through postal services, which led to the seizure of kilos of assorted drugs and over 40,000 ecstasy pills in December 2022, according to the Federal Police.

It’s difficult for authorities to track the quantities produced and exported from across Europe, but they know the narcotics are being shipped globally, including to the US and Latin America, according to another Belgian official. In some cases synthetic drugs are being traded for cocaine, to avoid cross-border money transfers, the official said.

“Logistics service providers are aware of the potential for organized crime to misuse their supply chains,” said a spokesperson for DHL Group. The company said it’s in regular contact with law enforcement institutions to mitigate the risk of illegal use of its services and are constantly adapting its control processes, but couldn’t give further details due to security reasons.

In February, Chilean police and customs officials said they had seized 140 kilos (309 pounds) of ecstasy and MDMA that came from the Netherlands by sea. Meanwhile in 2022, Chile said it intercepted two shipments from Europe in coordination with Dutch officials, marking the largest-ever seizure of MDMA and ecstasy in Latin America at the time.

So-called synthetic drugs include substances like ecstasy, MDMA, amphetamines, and methamphetamine. A joint report from Europol and the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, the EU’s drugs agency, estimates the annual value of the retail market in the EU for amphetamines, the most common synthetic stimulant in Europe, at over €1 billion ($1.1 billion).

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report for 2023 found that synthetic drugs have “proliferated over the past decade,” offering criminals a way to reduce risks with easier access to chemicals, faster production times, and more geographical flexibility.

A key part of the EU’s anti-drugs strategy has focused on stopping the flow of drugs into Europe through ports. The EU’s executive arm set out a roadmap to tackle organized crime and drug trafficking in October, which it labels “one of the most significant security threats faced by the EU today.”

A commission spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement that officials are looking to specifically address the EU’s role in producing and exporting synthetic drugs as well, noting the roadmap includes actions to strengthen law enforcement cooperation, improve global surveillance capacity, and hold exchanges with China to tackle the trafficking of chemicals needed to produce drugs in Europe.

The EMCDDA and Europol also noted the role of chemicals imported from China in the production of synthetic drugs. They found these substances can be “diverted from legitimate sources or smuggled into the EU or derived from specially formulated ‘precursors’ imported from Asia, notably China.

The Belgian police force’s specialized team tackling drug laboratories raided 25 illegal labs in 2022, according to their annual report on drug trafficking.

Van Wymersch said European governments should introduce new laws to restrict access to the chemicals needed to produce these substances.

“It’s not very complicated the material that you need to get a laboratory together,” she said.

Source: Alarabiya