SKOPJE: Macedonia Customs has busted a big drug network and seized 152 kilograms of marijuana, 63 kilograms of heroin, 3.1 kilograms of cocaine and more than 6,000 ecstasy tablets and 2.7 kg of amphetamines, as well as €150,000 cash.
The gang is suspected of having brought large a quantity of drugs from Macedonia to the EU. According to a report from the Austrian Press Association, some 400 people have been arrested, with 100 kg of heroin, cocaine and cannabis seized, as well as a large amount of cash.
The gang recruited its members mostly in Macedonia, who were then tasked with the packaging and smuggling of drugs into the EU through the so-called Balkan route.
Police in various countries have been investigating the network since 2010, as part of operation ‘Vineyard.
According to police reports, security agencies have arrested the majority of the senior leadership of the gang, in locations in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and Macedonia
In Austria alone, there were 286 arrests related to the operation, which has been carried out during the past four years.
Four tons of drug cutting agents were also seized, indicating the significant scale of the network’s operation, Europol said.
The joint investigation team set out to permanently destroy the criminal organisation in the former Macedonia as well as its cells in Vienna and Frankfurt. The law enforcement team operated at these locations as well as in Rotterdam.
Afghanistan is the primary source of heroin encountered in the EU; there is significant trafficking towards Europe of heroin that has exited Afghanistan via the borders with Pakistan and Iran, the latter offering the shortest and most direct route to Europe.
Heroin is also transported from Pakistan to European consumer countries by air, and cells of Pakistani origin traffic heroin to Europe using a variety of transportation options that enable them to react flexibly to changes in law enforcement activity.
From Iran, heroin is smuggled across the border with Turkey and reaches Europe travelling along the Balkan Route. Much of this heroin transits Bulgaria via the former Yugoslavia and Slovenia to Italy or Austria, or via Macedonia and Albania to Italy, or via Romania, Hungary or Ukraine to Slovakia/Czech Republic or Poland, and then to Austria or Germany.
According to data released by Europol, about a third of all organized crime groups operating in the EU are involved in the production and distribution of drugs.
Drug trafficking continues to be very profitable, despite a moderate decline in the level of heroin use. The market value of illicit opiates in the EU is estimated at €12 billion.