STAFF REPORTER

MADRID
NATIONAL Police officers have seized 2'530 kilos of hashish and arrested six members of a drugs gang who had been trafficking through Morocco, Palma, Tarragona and Portugal for onward distribution in Europe. The gang leader was arrested at Malaga airport yesterday when he tried to leave the country.

Police sources said that Operation Costa Alta, a joint venture between National Police, their counterparts in Portugal and Customs Authorities had also resulted in the recovery of 46'000 euros in cash in May and a haul of six tonnes of hashish in the Portuguese port of Vilamoura in March this year.

Investigations had begun more than 12 months ago when police were tipped off about a narcotics gang operating out of Holland which dealt in trafficking hashish from Morocco to Spain and Portugal. Research revealed that the gang were purchasing the drugs at source and contracting vessels to transport the contraband along with helmsmen who knew the sea routes. Through a sophisticated plan, the gang arranged pick-up and destination points, storage facilities and European distribution networks. Following the police swoop in March, eight yacht-style vessels have been intercepted, apparently with false bottoms where the drugs were stashed. Police discovered that halfway through May, the gang were preparing a major trafficking operation along the coast by Tarragona. Officers then trailed one suspect, A.G.H. in a van packed with contraband, as far as the town of Cambrils (Tarragona) where he handed over the merchandise to another person. The second suspect set off for a poultry farm in Ruidoms where he locked up the drugs and then returned to his home in Esparraguera (Barcelona).

Police then arrested four people after carrying out a raid at an address in Esparraguera where they discovered 800 kilos of hashish and 46'000 euros in cash. Moving on to the farm in Riudoms, officers found 59 packages in the poultry feeding troughs which contained a total of 1'731 kilos of hashish. At that point, police arrested M.E.A. who was in charge of keeping a watch on the drug store.

In a second phase of the operation, investigators discovered that the leader of the gang, M.N., was in Spain. A sophisticated security watch resulted in his being arrested at Malaga airport with a quantity of hashish, 5'000 euros in cash and a large selection of keys used in his illegal operations. M.N.'s constant travelling and involvement in illicit dealings in several countries had required police collaboration on an international scale to track him down.

The police investigation is continuing and more arrests are anticipated.

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