Special Report: The drug routes through Greece to Europe
Greece’s geographical position at the point where three continents meet and a gateway between east and west makes it a key route for the worldwide drug trade, the most lucrative of the international criminal trades and one that accounts for almost half of the revenue of worldwide organised crime.
The head of the Attica Security Police Drugs Prosecution Department Kostas Panagiotopoulos, in a report released on Sunday, talked to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency about Greece’s role in the international drug trade and the routes used to transport drugs from the countries where they are produced to Europe.
“Greece is a country that produces small amounts of cannabis and a destination country of quantities from abroad for domestic consumption but also for transporting the substance to EU countries, chiefly from Albania. At the same time, Greece’s position at the crossroads of three continents, combined with its proximity to countries that produce and traffic in drugs, automatically makes it one of the main routes for transporting heroin, both across its extended land borders and via its sea borders,” he said.
For heroin, in particular, Greece is one of the main transit countries for quantities sent to Europe, as well as a destination country for domestic consumption. A large number of Greeks is involved in trafficking heroin in the country, followed by Albanians.
Heroin seizures in Greece often involve large quantities, such as the bust of a refrigerator truck moving 369 kilos of the drug that was stopped in Greece on its way to Belgium, or the 20 kilos found stashed in a tourist coach arriving from Turkey.
Neighbouring Albania is a “collection point” for heroin, which is then transported by Albanian criminal groups to various destinations, including Greece. There is significant involvement of Greek nationals, however, in the preparation and “cutting” of heroin. Afghan nationals and Pakistanis are also often involved in heroin trafficking, while production, trafficking and consumption have risen sharply in Africa.
A variety of methods and modes of transportation are used to smuggle the drugs across borders, with the greatest quantities moved overland from the countries where it is produced (Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Pakistan) via Turkey and then following three alternative routes to enter Europe. Italy is the most southern destination, either through Greece or the Balkans.
When it comes to cocaine, the primary entry points of the drug in Europe are the ports on the Atlantic, in Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal, with Greece and Italy playing a secondary role. Greeks have a limited role in the cocaine trade, though Albanian involvement is constantly increasing in this area as well. Albania has become a key distribution point for cocaine destined for European markets and is used as a storage country, alongside its role in the heroin trafficking trade, though Greeks still dominate the Greek cocaine dealing market.
The criminal groups cooperate with their counterparts in Latin America and the Caribbean and set up companies as “fronts” to facilitate the transport of drugs with their goods and to legalise their income. Again, a variety of modes of transportation and means are used to bring cocaine into Greece.
Even more dizzying is the variety of vehicles and methods was used to import cannabis into Greece, Panagiotopoulos said, which range from private cars and trucks to jet skis and postal parcels. The criminal groups involved in the cannabis trade are primarily Greek, with Albanians the next best-represented group, though most outfits contained members of at least two nationalities and move more than one type of drug.
The majority of imported cannabis products from outside Europe came from North Africa and Lebanon, mostly in freighters and fishing boats, with Mediterranean countries usually the first “distribution point” while most cannabis produced in Europe came from Albania, either through Greece and Italy or via its northern borders.