THE largest hashish-smuggling gang in Spain has been taken down following a 15-month operation, with 19 arrests and 13 tonnes seized.
Investigators have taken possession of six properties in Algeciras and La Linea de la Concepcion alongside three shotguns, three pistols, €20,000 in cash and eight high-end SUVs in a joint operation between the National Police and Guardia Civil.
The sting comes after a long-term stakeout in the Campo de Gibraltar during which ringleaders of the group, run by a kingpin known as ‘Messi,’ were identified in early 2016.
Transporting hundreds of kilos of hash from Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar in high-powered dinghies, the gang made regular landings in Malaga and Cadiz provinces, where the drugs were transferred into stolen 4x4s before being distributed by independent, highly-organised cells.
Several boats were typically dispatched at once, arriving at separate points along the coast under cover of darkness in a coordinated exercise designed to fool police and resulting in a number of high-speed chases.
Messi himself fled to Morocco in January this year after becoming suspicious following a number of failed police raids during which two officers were shot.
However, he returned in March to take in a concert by a famous Algerian musician at a nightclub he owns in Algeciras, with his lieutenants arranging special security measures.
Police surrounded the venue but failed to escape detection, one of Messi’s guards producing a knife before stabbing two officers, the commotion allowing the drugs boss to escape in a strategically-parked sports car.
He remains at large and is thought to have returned to Morocco, as investigators went on to arrest 19 high-ranking gang members and issue eight European arrest warrants.