Six Londoners arrested over Airbnb cocaine trafficking operation

·2-min read
Antwerp port, through which most drugs are believed to come into the city before being distributed throughout Europe - THIERRY ROGE /Reuters
Antwerp port, through which most drugs are believed to come into the city before being distributed throughout Europe - THIERRY ROGE /Reuters

Six Londoners have been arrested for running a major international drug dealing network in Antwerp out of a number of holiday rental properties including Airbnbs.

Belgian police seized more than £20m worth of cocaine and arrested the British men, aged between 25 to 43 years old, on charges of importing large quantities of drugs through the port of Antwerp and storing it in apartments across the city.

Authorities also raided several properties rented via Airbnb and Booking.com believed to be linked to the international smuggling group.

In one apartment in Kalmthout, north-east of Antwerp, police found some 580 kilos of cocaine, with a street value of around £22.7 million.

A further 98 packets of the drug were found stashed in suitcases in another property in the Flemish city of Sint-Niklaas, according to local prosecutors.

“What is striking is that they used properties that are let out via Airbnb or Booking.com. The properties were used as temporary bases and as storage facilities for consignments of cocaine," said Kristof Aerts, spokesman for the Antwerp Judicial Authority.

Airbnb and Booking.com were not immediately available for comment.

"At this stage in the investigation it would appear that a group of British criminals was going to trade a large consignment of cocaine. The drugs are believed to have been smuggled in through Antwerp docks," Mr Aerts added.

The British men all face hearings before the end of the week.

In recent years, Antwerp, a genteel port city, has become known as a global drugs gateway and the cocaine capital of Europe.

Europol, the EU's policing agency, reported that some 65.6 tonnes of cocaine was seized in the city last year alone.

Belgium's police forces have ramped up their operations against criminal gangs operating in the country, often with thousands of officers taking part in specialist raids.

Antwerp police last week detained twenty suspects, luxury cars, watches, firearms and £30,000 in cash as part of an operation to dismantle smuggling networks.

Cyber experts are also increasingly able to crack encrypted messages, allowing police to create a map of the criminals' entire operations.

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