It was the largest cocaine find of all time in Europe: In February 2021, customs investigators in the port of Hamburg seized several containers with putty from Paraguay, in which a total of 16 tons of cocaine with a street value of between 1.5 and 3.5 billion euros were hidden.

Reinhard Bingener

Political correspondent for Lower Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Bremen based in Hanover.

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Now the case has apparently been cleared up: the Lower Saxony State Criminal Police Office announced on Thursday that a group of criminals with a focus on the Hanover region who had been responsible for the transport had been broken up.

In total, the group is said to have smuggled at least 23 tons of cocaine, which was also hidden between bananas and coffee from Latin America.

On Wednesday, more than 600 police officers, including special forces, searched a total of 35 properties in Lower Saxony, Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia and arrested eleven people.

At the same time, investigators also struck in Belgium, the Netherlands, Paraguay and Dubai.

LKA Vice-President Bernd Gründerel speaks of a "huge blow against the drug mafia", which is mainly due to good cross-border cooperation between the authorities.

An encrypted messenger service, which was cracked by the security authorities, also played an important role in the investigation.

According to the police, the German group of perpetrators with a focus on Hanover is a “multi-ethnic group”.

The main perpetrators are two men with a German passport who have previously been convicted and who were born in Hanover.

The 39-year-old head of the organization fled to Dubai at the end of 2020, where he was arrested.

At that time, he handed over the business supervision in Hanover to his longtime, 43-year-old friend.

The group of perpetrators continued their drug business after the find in the port of Hamburg and extensive searches in Hanover in March 2021 - and the investigators stayed on their trail.

The 43-year-old main perpetrator was then arrested in mid-March 2022,

when he received 500 kilograms of cocaine in Barcelona with another man from Hanover and a Spaniard.

At that time, the investigators secured 500,000 euros in cash.

During the searches in the Netherlands on Wednesday, another four million euros in cash and an SUV were confiscated.

There were also three other arrests, five in Belgium.

According to the investigators, the people arrested there have links to criminal groups with roots in Morocco.