International drug cartel dismantled
An international drug cartel that has been active mainly in Slovenia and Austria, but also in Italy and further afield, has been dismantled by the Slovenian police in cooperation with the Austrian law enforcement authorities.
In a culmination of an extensive investigation that went on for two years, 500 investigators and police officers conducted 50 house and other searches between 9 and 10 January, seizing illicit drugs, cash and means of transport. They filed charges against 49 suspects.
Presenting the outcome of the operation to reporters on 17 January, Primož Donoša, the head of the criminal police at the Kranj Police Department, said the criminal ring was run by a 31-year-old man from Jesenice.
The ring was involved in manufacturing and trafficking in illicit drugs, as well as weapons smuggling and debt collecting where they applied cruel methods, such as demanding of debtors to sell their organs to pay off debt.
The Slovenian police seized 11 kilograms of amphetamine, more than 3,000 ecstasy pills, more than ten kilos of dried cannabis and more than €300,000 in cash, as well as two vehicles used to transport drugs.
They established that the ring sold at least one kilo of heroin, 28 kilos of cocaine, 130 kilos of cannabis and produced and sold 34 kilos of amphetamine. The ring leader is suspected on making over one million euros in illicit proceeds.
In addition, seven arrests were made in Austria, including of five Austrian and two Bosnian citizens. The Austrian police seized 12,516 grammes of marijuana and 719 grammes of cocaine, €500,000 in cash, as well as luxury cars, mobile phones, handguns, a scare gun and various medications, Christian Voggenberger, the head of the Salzburg office of state criminal police, told reporters in Ljubljana.
David Antolovič, the head of the criminal police administration at the General Police Directorate, said the investigation had been a major challenge, also because legislation is not up to date with the fast development of information technology that the criminals used.
Apart from the effort put in by Slovenian investigators and the excellent cooperation with the Kranj district prosecutors and the specialised prosecution service, which steered the investigation, he said the outcome of the investigation was owing to excellent cooperation with the Austrian counterparts.
Donoša said the cartel smuggled cocaine from north Europe into Slovenia, and produced amphetamine and grew cannabis in covert locations throughout the country, including in Ljubljana. They often moved their production. They bought cannabis saplings from a criminal ring from Austria.
The cartel leader linked up with a 40-year Serbian national, who organised for several foreigners using fake Croatian documents to rent houses across Slovenia to grow marijuana in them. Part of the ring stole €50,000 worth of electricity to operate their cannabis labs.
One of the cartel's members got in touch with a 34-year-old Slovenian citizen living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, who organised transport of army weapons destined for Germany and on to Belgium. The shipment was intercepted by German police, who seized five automatic riffles, a gun and ammunition from a vehicle.
After the weapons seizure part of the criminal ring moved to Austria to continue their criminal activity in the Salzburg area.
To avoid police, members of the cartel used hiking trails, including via the old Ljubelj border crossing.
One of the suspects is reportedly Aleš Zupančič, a familiar face to the police who currently stands trial in another drug smuggling case where he is accused of running a criminal organisation that allegedly made €1.3 million in illegal proceeds.
Earlier media reports said some members of the dismantled ring were involved in drug trafficking elsewhere in Europe as well, including in Montenegro, Italy and the Netherlands.