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Helsingborg’s Harbor: A Major Hub for International Cocaine Trafficking – Surge in Record-breaking Seizures

In April of this year, the port of Helsingborg witnessed a series of significant cocaine seizures by customs officials. Two containers were found to be harboring a total of 460 kilos of cocaine. Adding to this alarming trend, another 450 kilos have already been confiscated in May. These refrigerated containers predominantly originate from South America, particularly Ecuador. The smugglers have employed cunning tactics to conceal the drugs within the containers, utilizing hidden compartments in maple spaces, beneath the floor, or within the walls. Notably, the cocaine seized is of exceptionally high purity. During a press conference held at the Customs Office premises in Malmö, a multitude of cocaine packages were showcased on the table.

Magnus Petterson, a senior prosecutor at the national unit against international and organized crime, divulged that the cocaine has a purity level of around ninety percent. He stated, "Even after dilution, each kilo here in front of us can still be sold multiple times on the illegal drug market."

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Investigations suggest the involvement of several independent networks, both Swedish and foreign, in cocaine smuggling operations within the port of Helsingborg. Magnus Pettersson believes that the majority of the cocaine is not intended for the Swedish market but rather destined for Europe. Consequently, Helsingborg serves as a transit point. Pettersson highlighted two primary reasons contributing to this situation.

"The first reason is the inadequately low inspection frequency of incoming container traffic at the port of Helsingborg. The second main reason is the insufficient shell protection around Helsingborg's harbor," Pettersson explained.

Insufficient scrutiny of containers and lax security measures for unloading cocaine shipments at the port are facilitating the smuggling activities. Despite the substantial seizures, only two individuals, both Albanian citizens, have recently been arrested for retrieving 47 kilos of cocaine in December, according to the Swedish Customs Administration. In several cases, containers have been discovered that likely contained cocaine, but the smugglers managed to evade capture, leaving behind tools such as cutting torches and bolt cutters.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the customs agency has requested increased funding from the Ministry of Finance, seeking 165 million next year, 450 million in 2025, and an additional 450 million in 2026. This funding would enable the hiring of approximately 90 additional employees annually. Erik Friberg, the head of customs crime in Malmö, stressed the significance of bolstering security at checkpoints like Helsingborg.

Prosecutor Magnus Pettersson concurred, stating, "Based on our findings during this ongoing operation, we have determined that smuggling can be significantly curtailed by inspecting every refrigerated container from South America that arrives at the port of Helsingborg before further transit."

Both prosecutors and the Swedish Customs Service are actively working to enhance shell protection at the port of Helsingborg. Erik Friberg acknowledged that progress has been made through productive discussions with the port authorities, but further improvements are necessary. Securing several kilometers of fences poses a complex challenge. He also acknowledged that there are competing interests involved.

"The port and the Customs have distinct objectives. The port serves as a logistical hub, focused on efficiently transporting containers from point A to point B. Their primary concern is not the container's contents, whereas we are deeply invested in it. Their aim is to expedite the logistics chain and ensure smooth operations for legal goods," Friberg explained.

The situation demands immediate action to prevent the port of Helsingborg from being exploited as a gateway for international cocaine trafficking. It is crucial to strengthen security measures, increase inspection frequency, and allocate adequate resources to combat this growing menace. By doing so, we can effectively protect our communities and disrupt the operations of these criminal networks.

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