Drug gangs from the UK are now working with the mafia and other international crime gangs to get larger shipments of cocaine across the Atlantic, according to a leading serious crime official.
Lawrence Gibbons, who heads the drug crime unit at the National Crime Agency, says that British criminal leaders have established direct connections with drug cartels in South America through the ’Ndrangheta mafia of Italy.
The ’Ndrangheta is one of the most powerful and profitable criminal ventures in the world. According to Europol, the gang makes an estimated £44bn a year in profits, which is more than many large multinational corporations.
Often lead by the group, shipping containers full of smuggled coke are now being shared between gangs across Europe, who work together in advance to share the goods between them.
Tighter controls at the US border and the deadly antics of Mexican cartels meanwhile means that groups in coke-producing countries like Colombia are seeing Europe as an easier spot to ship their drugs to.
Once the loads arrive, bent officials at continental ports such as Rotterdam and Antwerp are said to be assisting in getting the powder onto the streets.
Back at home, around 1,716 UK-based gangs are estimated by the agency to be involved in the cocaine supply chain.
The report comes only days after the NCA stopped a yacht packed with a two-tonne shipment of cocaine from entering the UK off the coast of Devon, with all six members of its crew arrested.
Import and distribution of drugs in the UK has traditionally been lead by a small number of individuals, often nicknamed 'Mr Bigs', who would operate their own networks in competition with other kingpins from across the land.
According to Gibbons, however, this model has changed over the last ten years, as new technology and general shifts in business operations have seen the trade replaced with a larger number of smaller enterprises working closely to secure large quantities of illicit substances.
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