Due to increasing cocaine seizures, there should be better surveillance of German harbours. Latin American security authorities will therefore be joining a conference in Hamburg in May.
The German Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser (Social Democratic Party of Germany, SPD), wants to campaign for an intensified fight against international drug trafficking. To this end, a conference with countries from the EU and South America is to be held in Hamburg in May, said Faeser on Monday.
Background to this are increased finds of cocaine and other illegal intoxicating substances found at ports in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France last year. These figures are even significantly higher in Belgium, where around 116 tonnes of cocaine were discovered in the port city of Antwerp alone last year. Authorities in the Netherlands seized a total of around 59.1 tonnes of cocaine in the same year.
The illegal goods are often smuggled in banana or bulk containers. In order to recover hidden cocaine shipments from ships, the smugglers allegedly also use divers. According to investigators, another method is to throw bags of drugs overboard, which are then collected by accomplices.
According to Faeser, the helpers are also service staff recruited by the smugglers. “Above all, it is important to make port employees resistant to corruption,” announced Faeser. In Germany, the focus is on Bremerhaven and the port of Hamburg in particular.
At the end of October 2023, representatives of security authorities founded an “Alliance for a Secure Port of Hamburg”. The initiative aims to better network the Hamburg State Criminal Police Office (LKA), customs, the waterway police and the port administration in a “security centre”. Among other things, the fence around the Port of Hamburg is to be raised, announced Jan Hieber, head of the Hamburg LKA.
The “harbour offenders” mentioned by Faeser and referred to by the LKA are also to be pursued more vigorously. In March, the police intend to launch an “awareness campaign” for harbour employees and warn them against making contact with “criminals”.
The increasing number of drug finds at the port of Hamburg can also be traced back to the decryption of the Encrochat and Sky ECC crypto services used on mobile phones. A French secret service succeeded in hacking the network. The messages intercepted via the network were then used as a source of information. The messages were then passed on to police forces in EU countries via Europol. In Germany, the partner in this ring exchange with the secret service was the BKA.
In the area of drug trafficking, Europol then carried out “Operation Hinterland” with the police in Brazil. Police and gendarmerie authorities from France and Spain also took part. The decisive tip to the Brazilian federal police is said to have come from German customs as part of “Hinterland” after 316 kilograms of cocaine were intercepted in Hamburg in 2020. This is why the German Customs Criminal Investigation Office was one of the four partners in “Operation Hinterland”.
After two years of investigations and months of surveillance, the law enforcement authorities in Latin America and Europe subsequently “shut down” one of the most active networks in Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil in March 2023, according to Europol. In the process, 15 people were arrested, over 17 tonnes of cocaine and assets worth over €80 million were seized and the bank accounts of 147 people and 66 companies were frozen.
In the Netherlands and Belgium, drug trafficking networks also use violence for their own purposes, with police there even claiming to have discovered “torture chambers”. “We have seen how journalists and public prosecutors have been threatened or even murdered there,” said Faeser on Monday.
However, the partners with whom Europol and German customs cooperated in “Operation Hinterland” are also known for their brutal methods. Brazilian media reported ten deaths during a police operation in July, for example. The officers are said to have tortured and murdered a man and threatened to kill a further 60 people in poor neighbourhoods in the city of Guarujá.
To intensify existing co-operation with Europol, seven Latin American countries founded a “Committee for Internal Security” (CLASI) in Brussels two years ago. The model for this “informal dialogue structure between high-level security policy officers” is the COSI, a similar committee of the 27 EU states. CLASI is not just about combating drug trafficking: Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador and Panama have committed themselves in a declaration to coordinating their measures to “address the region’s security problems”.
Faeser now wants to build on this. “In the fight against smuggling, we need a security partnership that extends from Peru to Germany,” demands the Federal Minister of the Interior with regard to the planned police conference in Hamburg.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: The informal CLASI, founded 2022 in Brussels (EEAS).