A surge of cocaine is observed, once again, at the port of Antwerp: 110 tonnes were seized by customs in 2022, against 90 in 2021 and 36 tonnes in 2016, which were already a record. The white powder comes from Latin America, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador mainly, hidden in containers of bananas, pineapples or wood.
Interception remains the exception
Should we conclude that the port of Antwerp is a sieve? Judging by the results of the Dutch port of Rotterdam, where seizures have on the contrary dropped from 70 to 52.5 tonnes between 2021 and 2022, the question arises. Traffic has shifted to Antwerp since the port of Rotterdam strengthened its security by equipping the terminals with container scanners.
In Belgium, the Director General of Customs, Kristian Vanderwaeren, indicates that only 1.5% of containers are analysed, out of a traffic of 12 million containers per year: “It is estimated that a share of 10 to 20% of cocaine in transit is intercepted, but each year the traffic increases and we do not have the means to meet the growing needs. »
10% of Belgian GDP
The game of supply, abundant, and demand, no less important in Europe, makes traffic very profitable: probably around 50 billion euros per year, or 10% of Belgian GDP. This is organized in direct contact with the Netherlands, from where the narco-mafia re-exports white powder across Europe. Dutch police describe Jos Leijdekkers, a 31-year-old Dutch national, as the true “drug king of the port of Antwerp”. His photo was broadcast and his head was put at a price, in May 2022, of €75,000 for information leading to his arrest.
Reinforcement of resources
The burgomaster (equivalent to the mayor) of Antwerp, the Flemish nationalist Bart De Wever, regularly issues cries of alarm about the levels of corruption and violence reached in his city. Apostrophized, the federal authorities respond each time they are far from inactive. A vast crackdown has been orchestrated, with more than 1,200 arrests since the hacking, in 2021, of an encrypted messaging service used by traffickers.
While 20% of the Belgian judicial police are assigned to drug cases, the country has just announced the recruitment of around a hundred customs officers, reinforcements for the 300 officers already present in the port of Antwerp, in addition the purchase of new scanners. An investment of 70 million euros that the State seems to have resolved to make, the port management company itself, reluctant to communicate, having been reluctant to put its hand in its pocket.
In 2020, the Belgian Minister of Justice, Vincent Van Quickenborne, also ordered the appointment of prosecutors specially assigned to the port, and gave judges the possibility of issuing “port bans”, including the prohibition to work there. A way to put aside the dockers corrupted by the narcos.
The drug lords reacted with methods worthy of Medellin (Colombia), including violent reprisals: on September 23, Minister Van Quickenborne was targeted by an attempted kidnapping from his home in Kortrijk, Belgium. A car parked near his home was abandoned, along with a Kalashnikov, bulletproof vest, straps and duct tape…
Four suspects whose identities had been checked on the road, in this car, had to flee. Their arrest in The Hague revealed that they were all linked to cartels. Since then, the Belgian Minister of Justice, who has also received death threats, has been living in hiding with his family, under high police protection.
Security measures were also imposed around Prime Minister Mark Rutte, threatened with kidnapping by narcos at the end of 2021, as was the Crown Princess of the Netherlands, Catharina-Amalia, 18. She had to give up a student roommate in Amsterdam last October, because of the alert given by the intelligence services about a possible kidnapping or an attack.
A market of 4.5 million European consumers
213 tons of cocaine were seized in 2020 in the European Union (EU), according to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction. Three of the twenty-seven Member States alone (Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain) accounted for “nearly 75%” of the total volume.
European ports are the main entry points for drugs : Antwerp (nearly 110 tonnes in 2022), Rotterdam (52.5 tonnes in 2022), Hamburg (19 tonnes in 2021), Gioia Tauro in Calabria (14 tonnes in 2021), Le Havre (10 tonnes in 2021).
Western and central Europe would have more than 4.5 million consumers of cocaine, including 600,000 in France, according to a UN estimate.
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