A vast operation involving police in Austria, Germany, Italy and the United States has led to the dismantling of a drug trafficking network stretching from Europe to the Americas, Austrian police said Tuesday.
The international drug network is alleged to have brought 40 million ecstasy pills to Europe
The network, which operated from the Italian city of Milan and involved members from several South American countries, sold nearly 40 million pills of the drug ecstasy from Europe in the United States, police said at a press conference in Linz, in northern Austria.
Linz was where police said one alleged drug trafficker was killed and that the two suspected paid killers had been picked up at the Austrian-Italian border.
The drug ring was also involved in bringing in cocaine from Peru, Chile and the Dominican Republic for sale in Austria and Italy.
Latin American drug lords target Europe
Europe is the top cocaine market after the US
Roughly 80 percent of cocaine from Latin America that was destined for markets outside of the United States in 2005 was bound for Europe, according to United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) estimates.
In all, Austrian police said the joint operation had led to the arrest of 54 people, mostly from South America, in Austria, Germany and Italy.
Police searches also found 16 kilos (35 pounds) of heroin, some 28,000 pills of ecstasy, as well as weapons and false passports.
International drug trafficking rings have been drawn to the European market because of the higher prices paid on the continent.
Last year wholesale prices for cocaine in the European Union ranged between 28,000 and 56,600 euros ($38,000 and $77,000) per kilogram compared to between $9,000 and $40,000 in the United States where the supply is larger, according to the DEA.
Spain in the spotlight
Spain is the main entry point for drugs from Latin America
Trafficking groups from Latin America are taking advantage of weak governments in African nations as well as their historical ties to Europe to smuggle drugs into the continent, specifically Spain.
Spain has become the main gateway for Latin American cocaine coming into Europe and has set up its own robust fight against drug smuggling.
Spanish officials seized over 40 tons of cocaine last year, a record amount and more than any other nation in the world except for Colombia, the United States and Venezuela, Camacho said.
The supply of cocaine in Europe has increased since the late 1990s leading to lower prices. This, combined with its association to a supposedly glamorous lifestyle, is fueling its growing use, drug experts say.