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15 December 2014

INTERPOL operation in Central America and the Caribbean nets almost 30 tonnes of drugs

Collective action of member countries and partners targets drugs and firearms trafficking


LYON, France – More than 27.5 tonnes of drugs have been seized in Operation Lionfish II, an INTERPOL-led initiative targeting the illicit trafficking of drugs and firearms by organized crime groups across Central America and the Caribbean. The seized drugs included cocaine, cannabis and heroin, with the cocaine haul alone valued at almost USD 1.3 billion.

Drawing on extensive coordination, groundwork and resources provided by 39 countries and territories across the Americas, the Caribbean and Europe, the two-week operation (1-12 December) further resulted in the arrest of 422 suspects. Some 7.6 tonnes of chemical precursors, 100 weapons and USD 2.2 million in cash were also seized.

Two individuals held in the Dominican Republic and Peru were the object of INTERPOL Red Notices for internationally wanted persons, in connection with alleged offences including arms trafficking and drug trafficking respectively.

Operation Lionfish II was carried out as part of INTERPOL’s Project Fortaleza which supports countries in Latin America fight the most dangerous and ruthless organized crime syndicates involved in large scale drug trafficking and illicit arms trade, as well as other criminal activities.

“The success of this INTERPOL-led operation is down to the commitment of participating countries and the expertise of frontline police. These officers operate often in dangerous circumstances to confront the insidious impact of organized crime groups in Latin America exploiting Central America’s corridor and sea routes to conduct their illicit activities,” said  Glyn Lewis, INTERPOL’s Director for Specialized Crime and Analysis.

“While the results are impressive, they are just a start. Follow-up work will continue with further investigations and evidence being prepared for judicial processes. INTERPOL will support its member countries in these ongoing international inquiries,” added Mr Lewis.

Financially supported by the French Ministry of Interior and the MILDECA (Mission Interministérielle de Lutte contre les Drogues et les Conduites Addictives), Operation Lionfish II was co-organized by INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, the French International Police Cooperation Service and France’s OCRTIS (Office Central pour la Répression du Traffic Illicite des Stupéfiants).

With INTERPOL units providing coordination on the ground, INTERPOL’s Regional Bureau in El Salvador and the OCRTIS office in Martinique provided real-time support for information exchange and facilitated cross-checking of data against INTERPOL’s global databases.

Jean-Jacques Colombi, Commissaire Divisionnaire at INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Paris, said France had played a key role in Operation Lionfish II because disrupting drugs and weapons trafficking not only protects transit countries, but also destination countries in Europe.

“The  operational  coordination unit  at the OCRTIS  office in the Caribbean strengthens regional law enforcement cooperation in targeting organized crime. The use of  INTERPOL’s sophisticated tools and unique network enhanced the capacity of Caribbean countries involved in the operation to cooperate and seize large quantities of drugs and arrest high level targets," said Mr Colombi.

The operation was undertaken in partnership with the Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council (CCLEC) and World Customs Organization (WCO), with support from Europol which carried out additional checks against its databases, the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre – Narcotics (MAOC-N) , as well as the French Coastguard and Customs.

“The CCLEC was pleased to partner with INTERPOL and the WCO in Operation Lionfish II.  For two weeks, the community of  law enforcement officers throughout the Americas, embarked with European partners on joint enforcement action against transnational crime, with tremendous effect.  The results clearly conclude that when we work together, governments, customs, police, military, the intelligence community  and citizens of goodwill, phenomenal success is guaranteed,” said CCLEC Permanent Secretary Paul Hilaire.

Saul Hernandez Lainez, the Head of INTERPOL’s Regional Bureau in San Salvador, said: “Operation Lionfish II once again demonstrates the importance of INTERPOL’s global tools and network in tackling crime affecting entire regions, and the essential role of its Regional Bureaus in supporting member countries combat organized crime and drug trafficking.”  

With some 50 illicit laboratories producing narcotic substances shut down, the operation also saw the Colombian National Navy seize a semi-submersible device used by criminal gangs to transport drugs, two light airplanes seized in Ecuador and almost 20 illicit jungle airstrips destroyed by Peruvian authorities. One tonne of cocaine was seized in El Salvador alone.

Operation Lionfish II included the following countries and territories: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Bonaire, British Virgin Islands, Canada, Cayman Islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Grenada, Guatemala, Honduras, Italy, Jamaica, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Saint Maarten, Spain, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos, United Kingdom, United States, Venezuela.