Countries both sides of the Mediterranean are stepping up joint operations against hashish flowing into Europe from North Africa.
On February 17, Spanish authorities boasted the dismantling of two smuggling networks that were bringing Moroccan hashish into the port of Málaga. In a two-day operation, Spain’s Civil Guard arrested 50 people and confiscated a helicopter, cars, boats, cash and weapons, as well as 3.7 metric tons of hashish. Moroccan authorities cooperated in the investigation, according to a report on Morocco World News.
But the more victories claimed, the more the hash seems to keep on coming.
Back in December, Moroccan and Italian authorities announced the bust in Casablanca of Ben Ziane Berhili, considered to be the world’s most-wanted hashish smuggler, following a three-year investigation. His successful sweets company was a front for a far more lucrative operation that smuggled 400 tons of hashish to Europe every year, according to investigators.
Ominously, however, the New York Times story on the bust noted how the international crackdown is just squeezing the trade into alternative routes: “For years, smugglers had sent small shipments of Moroccan hashish to Spain via speedboats or Jet Skis that crossed the Strait of Gibraltar. Then in 2007, Spain began installing cameras along its southern coastline, and the smuggling route changed. Under the new route, the hashish passed from Libya through Egypt, before eventually reaching the Balkans, where European gangs distributed it across the continent, according to investigators.”
A September account in the NY Times noted that smugglers are abandoning the piecemeal approach of speedboats and Jet Skis for merchant ships with holds full of hashish.
Over the past three years, some 20 ships were intercepted in the Mediterranean with a collective cargo of more than 280 tons of hashish valued at 2.8 billion euros, or about $3.2 billion, according to the European Union’s Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
And interrogations and investigations from these busts have determined that Libya has emerged as a new staging ground for the hashish trade, as a profusion of militia and rebel groups turn to the old dope-for-arms commerce to fund their insurgencies—often in cooperation with Syrian armed factions.