A farmhouse surrounded by a large olive grove, near the municipality of Cambrils, seemed to have all the qualities – discretion thanks to the density of the vegetation, but at the same time close to the main roads – to establish a cocaine processing laboratory there without be detected by the Security Forces and Bodies. That’s what a cell of the Balkan Cartel thought, the criminal organization made up of Albanians, Serbs, Croats and Bosnians who have become the kings of cocaine trafficking worldwide, displacing Mexicans and Colombians. The National Police has just dismantled this macrolaboratory for processing cocaine hydrochloride in Spain, which had more than a ton of contaminated substance inside that was going to finish being cooked for distribution.

In the last five years, the Balkan Cartel has achieved hegemony in cocaine trafficking. They broke into the world of criminal organizations as experts in home burglaries, but they soon jumped into the marijuana market until they monopolized it. From there, to the transportation of cocaine in collaboration with large South American cartels. And now, getting rid of intermediaries of all kinds, they are installing cocaine extraction laboratories on European soil.

A business that brings them greater benefits—and much less risk—since the cocaine crossed the Atlantic impregnated in materials, becoming undetectable in customs, even to the dogs’ sense of smell. Once in the laboratory, thanks to the use of precursors, it is extracted obtaining purity levels of around 98%. In this case, the cocaine arrived in Catalonia hidden in plaster.

The investigation began in mid-April thanks to international cooperation. The National Police received the alert that two Albanians had settled in Barcelona to establish the now dismantled laboratory. After the first investigations, a first chalet was located in the province with the presence of the two investigated who were being tracked. Despite the enormous security measures adopted to avoid being detected, investigators from the Drug and Organized Crime Unit—coordinated by the Investigative Court Number 3 of Reus—observed how a large number of transparent bottles labeled as a dangerous substance were introduced into some storage rooms

Colombia had also issued an alert informing that two of its compatriots were planning to move to Spain to work in a large laboratory, since the mafias find among Colombians the cooks with the best technique to extract cocaine. Agents identified that these two individuals were meeting with Albanians, certifying the connection between criminal organizations in Colombia and the Balkan Peninsula.

At the beginning of this month of May, the movements of those investigated picked up speed. A false step led the National Police to the Cambrils farmhouse. One of the Albanians was detected while traveling there, a rural area with little influx of people, which also had good connecting roads to speed up transportation. The agents verified numerous transfers of bags and boxes from the house in Barcelona to the property in Tarragona, as security measures were increased. They began to use only motorcycles, which allowed them to move more easily, and they held meetings in supermarket parking lots.

After observing the frenetic activity inside the farm, where they came to work until the early hours of the morning, the Police stormed the farmhouse last Tuesday in an operation with more than 30 agents from different units. It was in the lower part that the laboratory was located ready to process more than a ton of contaminated material from which they were going to extract, according to police estimates, between 400 and 600 kilos of cocaine ready for distribution on the market.

Currently, due to the overproduction of cocaine, a kilo has dropped to around 20,000 euros. There were four people working there: two Colombians cooking the drug and two Albanians supervising the proper progress of production. In addition, four other people have been arrested. All of them sent to provisional prison.

The police officers who this Friday reported on the operation at a press conference at the Canillas Police Complex in Madrid, were struck by the fact that the criminal organization had put all its eggs in the same basket: in the same laboratory. The plaster was contaminated. This is not usually common, since the bands store the raw material elsewhere for security reasons to be transferred little by little to the production site. This dismantled cell was clearly prioritizing production speed.

The head of synthetics and precursors at the central Udyco, Alejandro Martín Blas, has highlighted that the laboratory was dismantled before the organization could put into circulation the large amount of cocaine that it intended to introduce into the market. Furthermore, he has placed emphasis on the silent contamination that these types of laboratories can cause when organizations discard the chemicals used to extract the drug.

It will now be investigated whether the cell could have damaged the environment in the area. According to police sources, the detainees got rid of some of the precursors in a nearby olive grove, hours after a big storm, so it will be difficult to establish traceability of the contamination.