LONDON – Mexico’s drug cartels may have found a new route through the English port city of Liverpool for smuggling South American cocaine into Britain and the rest of Europe, working with local gangs to distribute the drug, The Observer newspaper reported Sunday.
The English port city has become an alternative to smuggling routes in West Africa, previously the main entry point for cocaine into Europe, that are now being heavily patrolled.
Mexico’s Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels dominate cocaine smuggling from South America into Europe via ports in Venezuela, The Observer said.
The Mexican cartels have cut deals with gangsters in Liverpool who transport the drugs.
The smuggling route through the Iberian Peninsula has become too risky at this time and the alternative route via Africa has been targeted by authorities, forcing the cartels to move their operations north to England.
Liverpool’s port is becoming a hub for cocaine trafficking, The Observer said, citing intelligence officials.
“The huge volume of container shipping that makes the Mersey one of the busiest thoroughfares in the world is a gift to a sophisticated drug-smuggling organization,” The Observer said.
“The Mexicans are shifting their operations. Mainly the cartels are beginning to traffic to the UK, but also Spain. The cocaine is in containers and the main port of entry is Liverpool,” an unidentified Mexican official told the newspaper.
The increase in cocaine smuggling through the port city sparked a war between rival gangs, with some former Irish Republican Army members hired as hitmen to kill rivals.
The Observer, citing police and underworld sources, said the war started in 2007, when Colin Smith, known as the “Cocaine King” and reputedly the second-biggest drug dealer in Britain, was gunned down.
The gangsters who ordered the Nov. 13, 2007, hit, a man known only as “the Bird of Prey” and James Taylor, have taken over the cocaine trade through the use of violence.
“They are heavily armed, they plant homemade bombs outside pubs. If the Mexicans are doing business in Liverpool, they have met their match,” a former gangster told the newspaper.
“Proposals were hatched earlier this year to bring cocaine direct into Liverpool. According to sources in both the police and the Liverpool underworld, the Bird of Prey, Taylor and their associates have the audacity, cunning and determination to forge an entirely new departure in the European cocaine business: one which will be far more violent than previous generations of gangs,” The Observer said.
The port of Liverpool handles 623,000 cargo containers annually, with just 30 police officers and 15 customs agents providing security.
“The Sinaloa and Zeta cartel are using containers and you have no solution for that. Either you go through every container or you deal with the UK demand for cocaine,” a Mexican drug enforcement official told The Observer.