Welcome to Antwerp, the cocaine capital of Europe

A ‘British’ gangster is executed in cold blood in Antwerp: Inside the cocaine capital of Europe where customs officers, the police and public officials are ALL corrupted by dirty drug money

  • EXCLUSIVE: Antwerp is awash with cocaine imported from South America 
  • With cocaine comes money and gangsters spreading their cash and influence across the city
  • Last year a record 90 tonnes of cocaine worth €13bn was found at Antwerp’s port, but is believed to be only 10% of the drug smuggled through the port
  • The city’s mayor Bart De Wever was recently placed under 24/7 police protection following claims that drugs gangs wanted to assassinate him
  • Chief prosecutor Franky De Keyzer likened the war on drug gangs to being ‘a cat-and-mouse game’ where criminals battle to stay a step ahead of the law
  • Law enforcement officials and port workers have been targeted by gangs with huge sums of money in return for allowing drugs containers through 
  • They offer customs officers €50k-€80k a time to hide containers carrying drugs cargos or swap them for legitimate ones before seizures are made
  • Last year a network of corrupt officials was uncovered many of them with access to government databases of personal records of all Belgian citizens 
  • Chief prosecutor Franky De Keyzer likened the war on drug gangs to being ‘a cat-and-mouse game’ where criminals battle to stay a step ahead of the law

An Albanian gangster with a fake British passport was shot dead outside his Antwerp home amid a bloody war for control of the Belgian city’s lucrative drug trade, which has seen it become Europe’s cocaine capital.

Beldar Muca, was shot six times as he returned to his flat on Saturday night, just yards from a police station, by two hit men who are still on the run with authorities claiming that it bore all the hallmarks of a contract killing.

Muca, 39, captured on CCTV in 2016 using a handgun to shoot at police, had been in Antwerp for the past two years operating as a key member of an Albanian drugs gang in the port city which has emerged as the epicentre for cocaine smuggled into Britain and the rest of Europe from South America.

Traditionally known for its diamond trading, Antwerp is being overrun by Albanian gangsters with the city’s streets awash with cash as the police fight a losing battle to stop the drugs cartels. 

British Albanian gangster Beldar Muca (pictured on CCTV shotting at police in 2016) was shot six times on Saturday night as he made his way home in Antwerp, Brussels  


Muca (left, a career criminal, was executed close to a police station by two hit men who are still on the run with authorities claiming that it bore all the hallmarks of a contract killing

Muca (above) was as a key member of an Albanian drugs gang in the city which has emerged as the epicentre for cocaine smuggled into Britain and the rest of Europe from South America

Police in Antwerp appear powerless to stop drugs gangs who have their tentacles of influence and money spread right across the city trying to corrupt and influence public officials 

The money generated from the multi-billion pound cocaine industry has corrupted those in powerful positions with a wide range of public officials arrested.

The latest round of arrests included a chief inspector accused of feeding information to criminal gangs and even a hospital administrator suspected of looking up addresses for dock workers who could be bribed with corrupt payments. 

Gangsters like Muca target those in positions of power by delving into every aspect of their lives, whether they are in debt and if they have every missed a mortgage payment who may be weak or vulnerable to offers of cash. 

Muca’s assassination on Antwerp’s lawless streets shines a light on the city’s cocaine trafficking problem, which has been described as a ‘tsunami’ that has blighted it with endemic corruption and violence as drugs money is used to ‘buy’ police, customs officials and port workers to enable the illegal trade to flourish. 

Last year saw a record 90 tonnes of cocaine worth 13 billion Euros being found at Antwerp’s sprawling port but the seizures, which are the highest in Europe are thought to account for only ten per cent of the cocaine smuggled through the city. 

Violence has exploded in the city with grenade attacks and dry-by shootings, but local officials claim that what is of greater concern is the way the influx of cocaine cash has impacted the city.

Bart De Wever, Antwerp’s mayor protested that wealthy businesspeople backed by drugs money, were seeking to infiltrate and influence Antwerp’s politics.

One law official described how ‘pitta and barber shops sit empty’ but on paper, register huge profits while property prices in Antwerp are also rising because of money from the drugs trade, pricing out legitimate customers.

Last year, Mr De Wever was placed under 24/7 police protection following claims that drugs gangs wanted to assassinate him.

He told MailOnline: ‘Antwerp is the first port of call for European trade with America. We are proud of this strong trade relationship, which creates close ties between our city and Latin America. In recent years, however, cocaine traffic has increased exponentially. The consequences of this are very tangible, especially for port cities.’

He added: ‘And unfortunately, source countries like Colombia suffer the consequences as well. The impact of organized crime and criminal money is undermining the fabric of our society.’

The city is awash with drugs imported from South America and transported across Europe. This is the moment customs discovered a stash of cocaine, part of 90 tonnes found last year 

Customs officers are being bribed up to €80,000 per shipment to turn a blind eye to containers filled with drugs or to swap them for legitimate ones before seizures are made

Antwerp – spread over 47 square miles – has emerged as the epicentre of Europe’s trade in cocaine partly because it has long been a gateway port for goods imported into Europe from South America.

Its existing shipping links meant that Columbian drug cartels increasingly decided to use it as an global hub to import cocaine destined for lucrative markets in Europe, Russia and the Middle East.

The increase in supply is also meeting the growing demand for cocaine in Europe where it is increasingly being seen as more socially acceptable.

Crackdowns on drug barons in the US where the demand for cocaine flourished from the 1980s have also led to cartels seeking out new markets.

The well-honed operations of gangsters able to corrupt workers and officials to help move cocaine out of Antwerp, has made the city even more attractive to the cartels.

Its convenient position, next to the Netherlands where much of the imported cocaine is cut and packaged before onward, distribution, is also a factor.

Much of the port area is criss-crossed by roads which are open to the public, making it easier for drug gangs to try and recruit workers as they head to and from work.

MailOnline spent nearly two hours driving around the port last week, stopping to examine giant mountains of shipping containers, without being challenged once.

Sources revealed that workers have received approaches in the past at the De Bus café which is in the heart of the port and is built around the carcass of a traditional red British bus, with a destination sign for East Grinstead.

Kristian Vanderwaeran, Director General of Belgium’s Customs said international gangs were spending ‘huge sums’ on trying to plant informants and corrupting local politics, despite the record cocaine seizures

Law enforcement officials and workers at Antwerp’s port have been targeted by drugs gangs with huge sums of money in return for providing information or allowing containers laden with tonnes of cocaine to go through.

According to sources at the port spoken to by MailOnline, traffickers offer anything between £50,000 to £80,000 a time.

Some crane operators are thought to have been illicitly paid thousands of Euros to hide containers carrying cargos of the drug or swap those containing cocaine for legitimate ones before seizures are made. 

Customs officers describe a favourite ‘Trojan horse’ style tactic where smugglers hide for days in containers stored on the docks before emerging to pick up cocaine, with port staff helping them.

The problem has become so severe that CEPA, the association for Antwerp port employees released a video about the dangers of its members being approached and offered bribes.

The animated video warns staff to avoid wearing clothing which could identify them as being port workers when they are outside work, and to avoid talking about their jobs in places like bars and restaurants. It also tells them to be aware of people trying to strike up conversations with them and submitting friend requests from fake social media profiles.

Last year, following a series of raids as part of Operation Sky, one of Belgium’s biggest anti-drugs operations, a network of corrupt officials was uncovered many of them with access to government databases of personal records of all Belgian citizens. 

Antwerp is known for its diamond stores (above) but money laundering businesses are popping up, ‘pitta and barber shops’ that sit empty, but on paper register huge profits

Sources revealed that workers have received approaches in the past at the De Bus café (pictured) which is in the heart of the port and is built around the carcass of a traditional red British bus, with a destination sign for East Grinstead

Others arrested included dock workers such as crane operators, stevedores and those involved in shipping administration.

More than 200 homes were raided simultaneously across Belgium with 48 suspects arrested including three lawyers in Antwerp and civil servants. Huge amounts of cash, diamonds, jewellery, luxury cars and guns as well as fake police uniforms were also seized.

Those detained included customs officers with security clearances allowed them to see which containers at the port had been identified as potentially carrying cocaine.

Some were said to be infiltrators who were among the 341 extra customs officers taken on as a result of the increased controls needed after Brexit. It was alleged at the time that officers had received money for tip offs, which enabled containers to be swapped with legitimate ones before seizures were made. 

One of the most high-profile arrests was that of a chief inspector in the Belgian police, known only as ‘Dario L’ due to Belgium’s strict privacy laws, a 30-year-old bodybuilder, who was accused of supplying information from police databases to an associate who then passed it on to drug gangs. He and his associate ‘Alain D.R.’ have been charged with participation in a criminal organisation, corruption and violation of professional secrecy.   

Ten workers from shipping firms, as well as forwarding and security companies at the port were also arrested after messages were analysed showing they were working with drugs criminals. One female port worker – a 28-year-old member of staff at shipping firm MSC known only as ‘P.C.’ was accused of passing information to gangsters linked to the trafficking of 1.3 tonnes of cocaine. 

Among those also arrested was ‘Natalie D’, 41, an official in Belgium’s tax office and ‘Femke G’, a hospital administrator who was used by drugs gangs to look up addresses of dock workers so that they could be visited and offered corrupt payments or threatened if they did not co-operate.

Last year, following a series of raids one of Belgium’s biggest anti-drugs operations, a network of corrupt officials was uncovered. Among those arrested included a female port worker (above) – a 28-year-old member of staff at shipping firm MSC known only as ‘P.C.’ who was accused of passing information to gangsters linked to the trafficking of 1.3 tonnes of cocaine

Also arrested was a hospital administrator known as ‘Femke G’ (above) who was allegedly used by drugs gangs to look up addresses of dock workers so that they could be visited and offered corrupt payments or threatened if they did not co-operate

The most high-profile arrest was that of a chief inspector in the Belgian police, known only as ‘Dario L’ (above) a 30-year-old bodybuilder, who was accused of supplying information from police databases to an associate who then passed it on to drug gangs

Prosecutors are demanding that the 24-year-old receives an 18 month jail term, despite her claims that she was not a member of a criminal organisation. 

One said during a court hearing: ‘Looking up an address seems harmless, but one has to realise that you cause a lot of misery to innocents.’

Kristian Vanderwaeran, the Director General of Belgium’s Customs said international gangs were spending ‘huge sums’ on trying to plant informants and corrupting local politics, despite the record cocaine seizures. 

Nordin El Hajjioui, 34, is suspected of being a major player in Antwerp’s drugs industry

He said earlier this month: ‘They look to the weak, the poorest ones, ones who have problems privately, those who are spending too much money.’ 

Antwerp’s chief prosecutor Franky De Keyzer likened the war on drug gangs to being ‘a cat-and-mouse game’ where criminals battle to stay a step ahead of the law. 

One suspected big player in Antwerp’s drug scene is Nordin El Hajjioui, 34, who was born in the city and now lives in Dubai where he has so far managed to resist efforts to deport him back to Belgium.

Known as ‘Dikke Nordin’ or ‘Fat Nordin’, he has an Interpol red notice against him which states he is wanted for weapons and drugs offences, and participation in a criminal organisation ‘as a leading person’.

Joris Van Der Aa who reports on Antwerp’s drug trade as a journalist and columnist on Gazaet Van Antwerpen, told MailOnline that traffickers were always on the lookout for workers and people in law enforcement who were poor, in debt or had other vulnerabilities.

Known as ‘Dikke Nordin’ or ‘Fat Nordin’, El Hajjioui, he was born in Antwerp and lives in Dubai. An Interpol red notice against him which states he is wanted for weapons and drugs offences

He said: ‘They will turn up at bars in the port to talk to workers, but they also use Facebook and Instagram to recruit. And some groups just use violence to force you to co-operate.

‘They need someone who can locate a container at the terminal. You need a crane chauffeur who can place your South American container next to an EU container which is also owned by the criminals. Then they can switch the coke between the containers. The EU containers are never searched because they don’t cross borders.’

He added: ‘Our prisons are filled with crane chauffeurs and stevedores who were corrupted by the coke mafia. Port workers are arrested almost every week.’

Johan Vermant, a spokesperson for Antwerp’s ruling Cabinet, told MailOnline: ‘Infiltration within the public sector and private companies, like shipping and port companies, come with the amounts of criminal cash that accompany the drug traffic and the influence of organised crime. It’s the well-known story of intimidation and corruption whereby key figures are threatened or bribed – and often a combination of the two.’

He added: ‘We have seen arrests in private companies, customs and police services, the judicial and administrative departments, and legal services like lawyers. The infiltration is cause for concern, which is why we have been asking for increased awareness about the issue for years.’

The bulk of the cocaine being shipped into Antwerp is believed to be Colombia where drug cartels have targeted Europe as their ‘primary destination’ as they see now see it as a more lucrative market than the US.

Antwerp has traditionally enjoyed historical trading links with South America, importing a variety of goods from coal and minerals to coffee and orange juice, which makes it easier for cocaine to be hidden within them.

Law enforcement officials claim that the majority of cocaine shipped through Antwerp is then processed in Holland, from where it is distributed across Europe.

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