Belgium in race to burn seized cocaine earlier than gangs steal it again – POLITICO


Belgium’s drug gangs need their cocaine again.

The nation has seized a lot of the white powder these days that it now faces a brand new downside: Its stashes of confiscated cocaine have gotten a goal for criminals trying to steal them again.

Belgium and the Netherlands are among the many high European locations for medication coming from Latin America — largely cocaine — and seizures in Belgium have ramped up over latest months. However whereas the Netherlands has the flexibility to incinerate any cocaine it seizes the identical day, Belgium isn’t there but — giving criminals an irresistible alternative.

“We used to grab portions that had been a part of the calculated danger for legal organizations,” Ine Van Wymersch, Belgium’s medication commissioner, informed public broadcaster VRT on Tuesday night. “However the portions we seize right this moment are a lot greater and not a part of the calculated danger. [Drug criminals] are clearly prepared to go nice lengths to recuperate the medication.”

On Friday, two port workers working near a seized container close to Antwerp had been threatened at knifepoint and tied up by three individuals attempting to entry it. Belgian customs later confirmed there was cocaine within the container, hidden between animal skins.

The incident got here three weeks after seven closely armed Dutch males with plans to recapture a seized cocaine load saved at a safe location had been intercepted on the final minute in Antwerp.

Belgium has seen a pointy uptick in drug-related violence lately because the nation has more and more change into a key vacation spot within the world medication commerce, centered round Antwerp, the EU’s second-biggest port.

The latest incidents have put Belgian authorities on excessive alert that drug gangs received’t shrink from brutal violence to recapture cocaine hundreds seized by police or customs officers.

It has additionally led to a political tussle over the place accountability lies for delays in disposing of confiscated medication.

Kristian Vanderwaeren, head of customs and excise at Belgium’s finance ministry, has referred to as for seized medication to be incinerated as quickly as attainable, ideally on the identical day. “[The Netherlands] intercept, do conditioning and have sufficient availability to burn it instantly; we don’t have that choice for the time being,” he informed Belgian radio Monday.

Nonetheless, the Flemish setting minister, Zuhal Demir, denied there’s a capability downside, blaming a scarcity of workers on the federal customs authority. She added it’s as much as customs and waste materials operators to arrange the disposal.

Within the brief time period, Van Wymersch — who will current a plan to sort out Belgium’s drug-related crime to the nation’s Nationwide Safety Council on Wednesday — mentioned she has engaged with each customs and waste materials operators to grant customs a “quick observe” to burn medication in incinerators. The catch is that customs isn’t the one supply of harmful waste, Van Wymersch argued, and cocaine seizures “are laborious to foretell.”

There are additionally safety issues for customs officers through the interval from the seizure and storage of medication, to their transport to an incinerator. After customs officers seize cocaine they’re liable for guarding the load, the federal police confirmed to POLITICO. Police help with transport.

“The federal government bets closely on scanning of containers. However scanning extra means there might be extra seizures. So we anticipate there might be extra price range to safe transport and for psychological help for customs officers,” Johan Lippens, a commerce union consultant for the Christan-Democratic ACV mentioned earlier this month, earlier than the 2 latest incidents.

In the meantime, the quantity of medication seized by Belgian authorities continues to rise.

In 2022, 110 metric tons of cocaine had been seized in Antwerp, a file that appears to be shattered this 12 months, with Vanderwaeren disclosing in his radio interview that 40 metric tons had been seized in a single month. Final Friday Belgian customs introduced it had seized 7.5 metric tons of cocaine in a single consignment, hidden beneath a load of bananas.

Wilhelmine Preussen contributed reporting.

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