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30 busted in scheme to ship cannabis disguised as humanitarian aid to Ukraine

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Boxes were ‘transported in vans that simulated being part of a solidarity caravan, thus trying to go unnoticed by police and border controls’

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A decidedly uncharitable bid to traffic cannabis in cardboard boxes presented as humanitarian aid destined for Ukraine, where Russian missile attacks threaten emergency blackouts, has been toppled and 30 suspects detained in Spain.

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The Civil Guard, Spain’s national police service, reports a joint effort involving searches in four different provinces throughout the country has revealed 800,000 euros ($1.1 million), six firearms and both dried weed and cannabis plants.

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The 30 detainees implicated in the massive discovery are of Ukrainian, German, Spanish and Moroccan nationalities, notes a translated Civil Guard press release. The criminal organization in question was dedicated to drug trafficking based in Andalusia and had cannabis grows scattered throughout the area.

  1. Image for representation. Officers also confiscated the pre-made joints, almost 2.2 kilograms of cannabis, 663 grams of hash, about $506 in cash and documentation. /

    Spanish police shut down ‘coffee shop’ selling giant, $1,360 joints

  2. Netbeheer Nederland reported last year that there are about 4,000 energy thefts each year in the country, mostly involving cannabis farms. /

    Power grab: Newly busted illicit grow-ops in Spain pilfered $2.3 million in electricity

  3. The three men, aged 64, 50 and 45, who allegedly used the religious charity to smuggle the illegal drugs from Jamaica via the Birmingham Airport have been convicted.

    Christian ministry used as front to import 400 kilograms of cannabis

The drugs were camouflaged as supplies and humanitarian aid for Ukraine. “These boxes were transported in vans that simulated being part of a solidarity caravan, thus trying to go unnoticed by police and border controls,” police say.

But the scheme began to unravel after investigators discovered a group of Ukrainian nationals in Costa del Sol who appeared to be collecting large amounts of illegal cannabis and then sending it to different countries throughout Europe.

Group members travelled to different parts of Andalusia, taking strict security measures, and “collected already packaged marijuana” before transporting and storing the illegal drugs in an apartment in Mijas.

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There were multiple searches in multiple locations over two phases of the operation. This resulted in police seizing 109 kilograms of vacuum-sealed cannabis in cardboard boxes from two Ukraine-registered vans in Fuengirola; 740,400 euros (almost $1.1 million) US$25,250 ($34,340), 20 kilograms of marijuana buds and 1,000 cannabis plants, as well as a weapon, multiple security vests and GPS tracking devices from 11 house searches in Malaga; and 1,500 cannabis plants, 10 kilograms of packaged weed, five firearms and 15,000 euros ($21,450) during eight searches in Granada, Córdoba and Seville.

Beyond being accused of drug trafficking, some or all of the individuals discovered during the raids are being held for illegal possession of weapons, belonging to a criminal organization, electricity fraud, road safety offences and attacking law enforcement officers.

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Spain has decriminalized recreational cannabis for personal cultivation and use in private, according to Forbes, but The Cannigma reports the rules are complicated. It is illegal to sell cannabis, possession and consumption are decriminalized, but not explicitly legal, and “Spain does issue licences for medical and scientific cannabis research, though these are few and far between.”

The criminal organization in question was dedicated to drug trafficking based in Andalusia and had cannabis grows scattered throughout the area. /
The criminal organization in question was dedicated to drug trafficking based in Andalusia and had cannabis grows scattered throughout the area. / Photo by Civil Guard

The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction notes that the illegal supply of drugs causing serious damage to health in Spain is punishable by three to six years in prison and, in cases of other drugs, one to three years.

“Aggravated circumstances may cause a sentence to increase,” per law firm Piñera del Olmo. These factors include supplying drugs to minors, possessing an extremely large quantity of drugs or belonging to a criminal drug trafficking organization, the information adds.

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The Spanish bust is not the first time that cannabis and “charitable” efforts have converged. Just last week, three men in the U.K. who allegedly used a religious charity as a front to smuggle about 400 kilograms of illegal cannabis worth £2 million ($3.3 million) from Jamaica to the U.K. were convicted.

Earlier in 2022, this time in Nigeria, the general overseer of the Christ Living Hope Church had his travel plans to Kenya abruptly cancelled after the authorities discovered he was packing 54 joints wrapped around his body.

And this past spring in North Dakota, an accidental, but nonetheless embarrassing, mixup occurred when Berthold Police exchanged cannabis evidence meant for disposal with a donation to the Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch.

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