The Dutch authorities intercepted three striking drug shipments from Mexico at Schiphol in a month and a half. In total, 436 kilos of cocaine and 69 kilos of crystal meth were found in air freight from Mexico. According to InSight Crime, there is ‘a new trend in drug trafficking to Europe’.
(Image: the 300 kilos of coke intercepted at Schiphol on November 27)
On 5 January, the customs at Schiphol Airport found 136 kilos of cocaine and 9 kilos of methamphetamine during an inspection of containers from Mexico. A month earlier, in early December, customs intercepted 60 kg of crystal meth in an air shipment from Mexico. It was a large amount, as customs seized only 20 kilos of meth in the whole of 2021. On November 27, customs authorities discovered 300 kilos of cocaine in air cargo from Mexico. The pressed one-kilo blocks were stored in a panel on which cargo is transported.
The catch of 300 kilos was exceptional. Seizures of cocaine at Schiphol that have not been carried in passengers’ luggage, but elsewhere on a plane, are usually between approximately 10 and 100 kilos. The three seizures, which took place within six weeks, stem from investigators’ concerns that Mexican drug traffickers are increasingly turning to Europe as a market.
In December, a joint report by Europol and the DEA revealed growing cooperation between Mexican cartels and EU-based criminal networks to smuggle cocaine and methamphetamine into Europe. “Typically, drugs are hidden in food, building materials and equipment, as well as other commodities such as water filters and wooden door frames,” said the report, which suggested that most incoming meth is re-exported to more lucrative destinations in Oceania.
Air freight on the rise?
As Mexican drug traffickers continue to enter their overseas markets, they appear to increasingly prefer air cargo to smuggle meth. As the third busiest cargo airport in Europe, this makes Schiphol an important reception point. As of 2021, most Mexican meth seizures outside the Americas involved air cargo, with 50 to 200 kilograms of liquid meth or crystal meth being smuggled out of Mexico City’s international airport at a time, according to InSight Crime.
2.5 tons of meth in Rotterdam
In June 2019, Dutch police found a record amount of 2.5 tons of Mexican meth in a Rotterdam office building in a hidden room in a commercial building in Rotterdam. At the time, it was the largest discovery of the substance ever in Europe. The police estimated the party’s street value at several hundred million euros.
Mexican and Dutch networks
Since then, the police have identified seventeen Mexicans suspected of facilitating Dutch meth production, according to the police report on the drug situation in the Netherlands in 2021. The drug report shows that Mexican and Dutch networks cooperate not only in methamphetamine production, but also in the large-scale importation of methamphetamine. Large shipments of methamphetamine are smuggled from Mexico to Europe. It happens via the lines that have long been used for smuggling cocaine.
Mexican networks provide the transport to Europe, after which Dutch networks take care of the reception. The leaders of the Dutch network keep in touch with the leaders of the Mexican network. The Mexicans provide skilled laboratory workers, the so-called ‘chefs’. These lab technicians often come from Mexico and are already present in Europe or have flown over from Latin America.
Not necessarily cartels
According to Belgian journalist Arthur Debruyne, Mexico correspondent at Financieele Dagblad, the latest smuggling parties via Schiphol do not necessarily involve Mexican cartels behind them. Small- and medium-sized Mexican traffickers are also trying to diversify destinations as a saturated U.S. market drives meth prices to record lows.
Debruyne told InSight Criime: ‘Last year I interviewed a drug trafficker in Culiacán, Sinaloa, who told me that smaller independent dealers like him were increasingly looking to Europe – Spain and the Netherlands – to ship meth. And he sent smaller quantities like this, 10 kilos, 20 kilos, 30 kilos, by air freight.’
When it comes to cocaine, the connection to Mexico is more surprising. US demand is still shakier, but its geography should still make it the Mexican narco’s first choice. The Dutch police drug report for 2021 shows that the Netherlands only seizes a few hundred kilos of cocaine a year from Mexico, so Schiphol’s 436 kilos in six weeks is highly exceptional.
Most (standard) interceptions of cocaine cargo at Schiphol concern cocaine from Suriname, Aruba and Curaçao, according to a 2020 analysis by Bureau Beke. More cocaine seizures from Mexico at Schiphol could therefore indicate that the attractiveness of the European market is growing faster than expected.
It is a scenario that the Dutch government is preparing for. In November, Dutch Justice and Security Minister Dilan Yeşilgöz-Zegerius told the House of Representatives that the cabinet will spend $14 million in 2022 to strengthen controls at Schiphol. That rises to $23.5 million in 2023 and $33.5 million in 2024.
‘Involvement of Mexican cartels in crystal meth in the Netherlands has not been proven’