Operation Lionfish, an INTERPOL-led global effort against trafficking of illicit substances and drugs, was launched between 17 September and 8 October 2018, simultaneously across 93 countries. The operation resulted in the seizure of more than 55 tonnes of illicit substances including 35 tonnes of cocaine, five tonnes of heroin, 15 tonnes of cannabis and 430,000 Captagon tablets and in 1,300 arrests. During the operation INTERPOL published a series of Purple Notices to highlight new modi operandi and drug concealment methods in cases which remain under investigation. Both CRIMJUST and AIRCOP actively participated in the operation highlighting the added value of the Cocaine Route Programme in strengthening transregional cooperation against organised crime and drug trafficking.
On the one hand, three UNODC staff of the AIRCOP project were deployed to three of the five coordination units established by INTERPOL. They supported the operation through increased communication between the coordination units and AIRCOP Joint Airport Interdiction Task Forces (JAITFs) as well as three AIRCOP associate countries. International airports supported by AIRCOP in Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and the Middle East seized, among other commodities, 330 kg of cocaine in in Colombia, 190 kg of cannabis in Barbados, 21 kg of cocaine in Benin, 2 kg in the Gambia, 74 kg of counterfeit medicine in Côte d’Ivoire, more than 5000 tablets of counterfeit medicine in Cape Verde, 5 kg of heroin in Mali, 5.5 kg of methamphetamine in Nigeria (Abuja), 10 kg of heroin and 18 kg of precursors (ephedrine and pseudo ephedrine) in Nigeria (Lagos), as well as 9 kg of khat in Togo, leading to the arrest of 60 passengers altogether. It is expected that the JAITFs continue reporting seizures through both the CENcomm of the World Customs Organization and INTERPOL channels which CRIMJUST would ideally support with post-seizure investigations. Similarly, information collected by JAITFs and shared through INTERPOL’s I-24/7 is expected to support future investigations, as well as operational and strategic analysis.
Pictures of a seizure of 1.2 tonnes of cocaine hidden in a streamroller in Port Santos, Brazil
On the other hand, representatives from CRIMJUST participating countries were deployed to two of the five operational coordination units and used INTERPOL’s secure police communications system to coordinate their actions and exchange valuable intelligence with other police forces across the different regions. CRIMJUST participating countries seized approximately 30 tonnes of illicit drugs (cocaine, cannabis, heroin and others), amounting to about 50 % of the total seizures of the operation, resulting in the arrest of 343 suspects and dismantling of 51 clandestine laboratories. As an example, Brazilian authorities in the port of Santos found almost 1.2 tonnes of cocaine on a ship bound for Côte d’Ivoire showcasing their increased capacity to tackle trans-national drug trafficking along the cocaine route.
Valuable information on drug -related cases was shared via I-24/7-Interpol’s secure communications network. The analysis of this intelligence will further facilitate investigations for law enforcement worldwide and support CRIMJUST in addressing specific needs at national, regional and trans-regional levels. Overall Lionfish has created a dynamic and collaborative platform among CRP participating countries which is hoped to outlast the operation.
AIRCOP’s and CRIMJUST’s contributions to the success of the operation demonstrate the benefit of coordinated activities at trans-regional level and strengthen the importance of the CRP as a comprehensive response to curbing organised crime and drug trafficking with the UNODC and INTERPOL as reliable partners. By enhancing capacity and participating in operations, the CRP projects have contributed to the disruption of trafficking routes and increased flow of police information, improving overall effectiveness of law enforcement in participating countries.