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Italy, Netherlands bust art and drugs gang

Authorities in Italy, Spain and the Netherlands have busted an international drug trafficking network accused of using the art trade to launder the profits, Italian and EU authorities said Thursday.

Dozens of arrests were made on Wednesday and a contemporary art gallery in Amsterdam was searched among 47 other locations as part of the operation coordinated by EU judicial agency Eurojust.

The network traded cocaine shipped from Latin America and ketamine from Lithuania, both brought in via the Netherlands, as well as cannabis from North Africa smuggled into Spain, Eurojust said in a statement.

Italy’s interior ministry said arrest warrants had been issued against 31 people, most of them Italian, for close links with Latin American traffickers, fugitives and members of organised crime.

In a bid to cover their tracks, network members used nicknames including Obi-Wan Kenobi and Pinocchio — with the Italian owner of the Amsterdam gallery adopting the moniker of street artist Banksy, it said.

The bank accounts of two transport companies based in Lombardy, in northern Italy, were seized, while Eurojust said bank accounts allegedly used for money laundering were also frozen in the Netherlands.

“Overall, an estimated 150,000 euros in cash was seized, as well as over 150 kilos of various types of illicit drugs,” Eurojust said.

The investigation began with the identification of two restaurant owners in Milan, who were suspected of running a local drug trafficking ring.

“As of 2020, authorities both in the Netherlands and Italy have managed to intercept large quantities of drugs,” Eurojust said, adding that several arrests were made in recent months culminating in this week’s “action day”.