Despite record cocaine seizures, drug cartels roil Europe

Jan 9, 2023, 7:44 PM | Updated: Jan 10, 2023, 9:50 am
Chief police inspector of the Brussels Morolles neighbourhood, Kris Verborgh shows a package of cra...

Chief police inspector of the Brussels Morolles neighbourhood, Kris Verborgh shows a package of crack cocaine in Brussels, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. The white plastic-wrapped kernel found on a small-time dealer recently was barely the size of a fingernail and weighed all of 0.2 grams. The "flash" that crack provides though is increasingly felt through the Brussels Marolles neighborhood and any place in Europe where the surge in cocaine supply is hitting hard. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

(AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

              A customs officer directs his dog as he performs a simulated drug search of cases of bananas for the media at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through the continent, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And Tuesday’s announcement of record seizures is also hiding a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
            
              A forklift driver unloads cases of bananas during a demonstration for the media at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through the continent, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And Tuesday’s announcement of record seizures is also hiding a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
            
              A customs officer simulates for the media a drug search on the bottom of a ship as he dives in a tank at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through the continent, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And Tuesday’s announcement of record seizures is also hiding a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
            
              A police officer walks in front of forensic markers after a shooting in Merksem district of Antwerp, Belgium, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023. Antwerp itself has been hit by two dozen grenade attacks, fires and small bombs that have often been linked to gangs trying to carve up the thriving cocaine trade that uses the north Belgian harbor as a port of call. Compounding the increasing threat in a city better known for painter Peter-Paul Rubens and its famed fashion school was Monday evening's fatal shooting of an 11 year-old-girl, likely an unwitting victim of the drug war. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
            
              FILE - A container is loaded onto a ship in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through the continent, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. And Tuesday’s announcement of record seizures is also hiding a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File)
            
              Trucks carrying containers queue at the Maasvlakte container terminal in the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through Europe, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. And a Tuesday, Jan. 10. 2023, announcement of massive seizures may well hide a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
            
              A customs officer, posing for the media, watches as a truck carrying a container enters an X-ray cargo scanning facility at the Maasvlakte container terminal location in the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through Europe, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. And a Tuesday, Jan. 10. 2023, announcement of massive seizures may well hide a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
            
              A truck carrying a shipping container enters an X-ray cargo scanning facility of the Dutch Customs at the Maasvlakte container terminal location in the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through Europe, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. And a Tuesday, Jan. 10. 2023, announcement of massive seizures may well hide a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
            
              A Dutch customs officer poses for the media as containers are being unloaded at the Maasvlakte container terminal location in the port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. Cocaine is spreading at an alarming rate through Europe, much of it through the world ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. And a Tuesday, Jan. 10. 2023, announcement of massive seizures may well hide a bigger truth, that South American cartels are throwing ever more cocaine at the European market. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
            
              Chief police inspector of the Brussels Morolles neighbourhood, Kris Verborgh shows a package of crack cocaine in Brussels, Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. The white plastic-wrapped kernel found on a small-time dealer recently was barely the size of a fingernail and weighed all of 0.2 grams. The "flash" that crack provides though is increasingly felt through the Brussels Marolles neighborhood and any place in Europe where the surge in cocaine supply is hitting hard. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

ANTWERP, Belgium (AP) — Each tiny plastic package was barely the size of a fingernail and weighed all of 0.2 grams. Still, the bags of white powder police seized in a Brussels cellar were yet another indication that a surge in cocaine and crack supply is hitting Europe hard.

And, with it, comes unprecedented drug violence in Belgium and the Netherlands, whose ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam have proven the main gateway for Latin American cocaine cartels into the continent.

In Belgium, the justice minister is forced to live in a safehouse, out of reach of drug gangs. In the Netherlands, killings hit ever more prominent people and there are suspicions that the reason the heir to the Dutch throne had to quit her student life and return home was also linked to threats from drug lords.

“We almost have to see it as a war,” said Aukje de Vries, the Dutch State Secretary for customs.

Officials in Belgium’s northern port of Antwerp on Tuesday announced yet another annual record in cocaine seizures last year: 110 tons, 23% up compared to 2021 and more than twice the amount confiscated five years ago.

“It astounded us,” said Belgian Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem. “It also means the drugs that are entering Europe (undetected) through our ports are also rising. And that, of course, has a huge impact,” he told The Associated Press.

Because with cocaine comes not only addiction, decay and death, but also violence and gang warfare.

In the past three years Antwerp has suffered dozens of grenade attacks, fires and small bombs often linked to gangs trying to carve up the thriving cocaine trade.

On Monday evening, the city better known for painter Peter-Paul Rubens and a famed fashion school saw the fatal shooting of a child, likely an unwitting victim of the drug war.

“A girl of barely 11 that obviously has nothing to do with crime gangs is now the victim of narco terror that is turning ever more ruthless,” said Antwerp Prosecutor Franky De Keyzer.

The situation in Belgium has become so bad that even Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, is living in hiding after evidence emerged drugs gangs might be seeking to kidnap him, or worse.

In the Netherlands too, home to the global port of Rotterdam, murder and intimidation have become increasingly common as drug lords go to extreme lengths to protect their cut of the multibillion euro (dollar) market. And 50 tons of cocaine were seized there last year which, combined with Antwerp, made for another record year.

Among high-profile murder victims in the Netherlands in recent years were a lawyer representing a witness in a drug gangsters’ trial and crime reporter Peter R. de Vries, who was a confidant to the same witness.

Unspecified threats to the heir to the Dutch throne, Princess Amalia, forced her last year to abandon student life in Amsterdam and return home. Security reportedly also has been beefed up around Prime Minister Mark Rutte. In both cases, it’s suspected that drugs-related crime is a factor.

And in places like Brussels, where the violence might be less spectacular, cocaine and crack are starting to have a chilling effect in areas like the Marolles, a neighborhood so folksy quaint it figured in Tintin’s cartoon adventures.

The chief police inspector for the neighborhood, Kris Verborgh, said South American cocaine “seems to be — or seems to have become — the new normal.”

Verborgh says the cost of the base product in Colombia amounts to some 500 euros ($536) a kilogram. A kilogram of the finished product can turn into some 70,000 euros on Belgium’s streets.

“It is a massive amount of money that you can earn relatively easily,” he said.

Because of that, seizures in the dozens of tons in Antwerp and Rotterdam may still constitute a losing battle in a multibillion global trade from the Latin American nations of Colombia, Peru and Bolivia to the major cities of Europe.

Brussels’ Marolles is hardly ground zero of that trade and many of the 11,000 people living in its warren of narrow streets are among the poorest in the city of 1.2 million.

Yet, over the past months they have been sought out for cocaine and crack sales. Verborgh said each tiny dose of 0.2 gram sells for 20 euros, within reach of even a beggar seeking instant gratification for whom a traditional 0.8 gram dose costing 50 euros is too expensive.

“They’re really targeting homeless people,” said Verborgh. In a cocaine seller’s world, it makes economic sense.

Fixers sometimes sell crack ready-made to be smoked on the curbside of once tranquil streets, even in a subway station with families walking by. Gangs start intimidating locals not to squeal, hurl rocks at passing police vans and try to turn streets into no-go zones for police — who Verborgh stresses, are not giving in.

Since mid-October, there have been 115 arrests in the neighborhood. The power of the gangs is such however, that within half an hour a new seller may be on the same corner.

And increasingly, the young are drawn in to the expanding trade. “Several years ago, we never saw somebody who was 12 or 14 years. Now we see them being more or less part of the gangs,” doing things like stakeouts, Verborgh said.

Just last week, police in the Marolles stumbled upon a cache in a seemingly deserted cellar where they found cocaine and other drugs, precision scales, a drone, pepper spray and two swords. One of the two teenagers arrested there was 14.

“Well, it’s a problem because normally a youngster of 12 or 14 years old should be at school,” Verborgh said.

___

Mike Corder contributed from The Hague.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

substation...
Associated Press

Puyallup man accused in substation vandalism is released from custody

A federal judge issued the order for Matthew Greenwood, 32, after renewed efforts by his attorney to get Greenwood into a drug-treatment facility.
1 day ago
Associated Press

American Express launches products for small businesses

NEW YORK (AP) — American Express is launching a suite of financial service products for small businesses as it aims build up its presence in the small business sector. The services, called Business Blueprint, stem from the credit card giant’s acquisition of fintech Kabbage in 2020. American Express had been offering small business lines of […]
1 day ago
FILE - The sun dial near the Legislative Building is shown under cloudy skies, March 10, 2022, at t...
Associated Press

Democrats in Washington state choose Conrad as new leader

The Washington State Democratic Party has chosen Shasti Conrad, the former leader of King County Democrats, as its new chair.
1 day ago
Birds are seen resting on top of tons of waste floating on Lim river near Priboj, Serbia, Monday, J...
Associated Press

Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia do little to solve waste problem

PRIBOJ, Serbia (AP) — In southwest Serbia, construction machines are being repurposed to clear tons of waste clogging the Potpec lake. Year after year during the winter months, the lake near the southwest Serbian town of Priboj fills with tons of garbage such as plastic bottles, rusty barrels, dead animals and even furniture or home […]
1 day ago
FILE - A man walks by Pfizer headquarters, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021 in New York. Pfizer reports their e...
Associated Press

Drugmaker Pfizer starts low with 2023 earnings forecast

Pfizer surprised Wall Street with a prediction for a bigger-than-expected sales drop this year for two key products: its COVID-19 vaccine and treatment. The drugmaker also released an earnings forecast that is below analyst expectations, sending shares lower before the opening bell Tuesday. Pfizer expects sales of both the vaccine Comirnaty and the treatment Paxlovid […]
1 day ago
FILE - An exit sign is shown at a McDonald's restaurant in Pittsburgh on Saturday, April 23, 2022. ...
Associated Press

Adult Happy Meals, McRib, feed McDonald’s sales in Q4

Adult Happy Meals and other limited-time promotions boosted traffic at McDonald’s restaurants during the fourth quarter despite higher prices. Global same-store sales __ or sales at stores open at least a year __ rose 12.6% in the October-December period, the Chicago company said Tuesday. That beat Wall Street expectations for an 8.8% increase, according to […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Despite record cocaine seizures, drug cartels roil Europe