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New gangs ‘Uberise’ Europe’s cocaine supply and bring more violence

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A surge in the supply of pure cocaine to Europe has led to a rise in drug-related murders as new criminal gangs muscle into a market previously dominated by the mafia, the EU drugs agency has said.

The extra output from Latin America, especially by the biggest producer, Colombia has led to growing numbers of gangs including from Morocco and the Balkans setting up their own smuggling lines straight from producers.

This has seen an “Uberisation” of the cocaine trade characterised by faster, anytime-anywhere delivery, a report by the Lisbon-based agency said on Thursday, which has also kept prices lower.

“The fragmentation of the cocaine trade in Europe appears to have resulted in increased competition among crime gangs for national and cross-border territories in cocaine supply and retail,” the report said. “One of the consequences has been an increase in violence and drug-related homicides.”

The emergence of more gangs has led to new marketing and transport methods, such as by couriers who dispatch the cocaine to consumers who contact special, dedicated call centres.

Such courier services exist in Britain, France and Belgium, where buyers get in touch with call centres located in Spain or the western Balkans, the report said.

“These new methods, reflecting an ‘Uberisation’ of the cocaine trade, are clear signs of a competitive market in which sellers have to promote additional services beyond the product itself, such as fast delivery anywhere at any time,” it said.

The increasing supply of cocaine in Europe has coincided in the past few years with changes in traditional smuggling routes from Iberia to large ports in Belgium, France and Germany.

The port of Antwerp is now the single, biggest entry point for cocaine into Europe, with 41 tonnes seized in 2017. In 2016, 70.9 tonnes of the drug was seized in all in Europe.

The report warned that the new smuggling routes through ports “may represent only the tip of the iceberg, as other routes and trafficking modes, such as private aviation, may simply go undetected”.

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