Last year a record volume of cocaine was intercepted in the Port of Rotterdam. Earlier this month, police, in cooperation with the Belgian police, intercepted 5,300 kilos of cocaine hidden among bananas. “The Netherlands is flooded by large batches of cocaine,” warns the Dutch Team of Criminal Intelligence of the National Police. Because fruit transports are much at risk of being used for trafficking, the police calls on the sector to stay alert.
Several factors come together resulting in record volumes of cocaine being intercepted. In 2013, the counter stopped at 10,000 kilos of cocaine being impounded in the Port of Rotterdam. “The playing field has changed, we’ve found more players on the field,” according to the police. “Besides, it’s an indirect consequence of the peace negotiations with FARC.” FARC was in control of the trade in cocaine from Colombia, but after the peace negotiations, a vacuum was created. Additionally, the movement had large stocks at its disposal, which are now marketed at knockdown prices. And finally, authorities in Latin America have stopped spraying coca plantations, so that production is much larger.
Underworld and straight world come together
The source countries of the drugs are Peru, Colombia and Bolivia. Surrounding countries such as Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica and Surinam are transport hubs. The constant flow of fruit, especially bananas and pineapple, from these countries to Europe, combined with the time pressure on these transports, means these shipments are an appealing cover for the criminals. “We expect avocados will also be used for trafficking in future,” according to the police. “Growers in the interior of Colombia often grew coca under pressure from the FARC, but they are now choosing avocados.”
“To a criminal, the cover doesn’t matter, he doesn’t have to make a profit of it, but if they manage to pass on the shipment anyway, they’ll end up with some extra cash. A criminal is just like an entrepreneur who has to take risks.” When a criminal has to choose between letting the bananas among which the cocaine was smuggled rot or making a profit by selling the fruit, the decision is easily made. The underworld and straight world come together then. From this perspective, the police also suspects that avocados will be used for trafficking in future. Considering the rapidly growing demand for this exotic, it’ll be easy to market avocados.
“Establishing a separate import company to mask the smuggling is difficult, and it’s time-consuming to build a name for yourself in the sector,” explains the Team Criminal Intelligence. It then becomes easier to use the straight world for selling the fruit. “Sometimes bona fide companies are pressured to import certain cargo from certain suppliers for someone else. We want to offer a helping hand to companies forced to cooperate.” The Criminal Intelligence Unit is a sympathetic ear, to which suspicious matters can be reported under anonymity.
It’s also good to stay alert within the sector. A transport company in distress, but which suddenly buys a fleet of brand new lorries. A wholesaler who always sells below market price, but drives an expensive car. A stranger without any experience starting an import company for fruit. These are examples of situations in which something is probably not quite right. “We’d like to hear similar stories, even if it’s just a feeling. It could be the puzzle piece needed to start a case.”
The Dutch National Police is divided into multiple forces. Each force has its own Team Criminal Intelligence (TCI). The TCI of the National Police Force is distinctive from the other teams because of its extensive international network. The service is the only force within the police that can guarantee complete anonymity. That anonymity is protected by the law. The TCI’s sources are protected up to the levels of the court. “We always operate from a voluntary cooperation, but the protection has to come from two sides. We don’t tell who we talk to, but those who talk to us should also not talk about it.” In the charges drawn up by the TCI, it can’t be traced who supplied the information. “We don’t offer evidence for cases, but a piece of information so that the detectives can get started,” the force explains. “We gather information and verify it. We then give that information, in general terms, to the detectives gathering evidence.”
The Team Criminal Intelligence from the National Police Force has opened a ‘tip line’ especially for tips, suspicions and information from the fresh produce sector: firstname.lastname@example.org