BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Police in Spain said Tuesday they have dismantled one of the largest criminal gangs growing cannabis in the country and trafficking it across Europe.
At least 65 people, most of them Chinese nationals, were arrested in several Spanish cities, Portugal and the Netherlands, according to a joint statement from the national and Catalan regional police bodies.
Police identified the gang as “Bang of Fujian," in reference to the eastern Chinese province where the two main families that formed it originated. The group operated mainly from its Barcelona base, in northeastern Spain.
Over 350 law enforcement agents, assisted by Europol, searched 29 large warehouses and other locations in Barcelona, Tarragona, Oviedo, Gijón and Bilbao, as well as private residences in Portugal and the Netherlands.
Police said officers dismantled 13 indoor plantations with nearly 40,000 marijuana plants whose harvested buds could have fetched 6 million euros ($7.2 million) in European markets.
The sites were illegally connected to the power grid to provide artificial light to the plants. Combined, the 13 warehouses used the equivalent of the average consumption of 1,177 homes, police said.
The investigation began in 2019 when the first parcels containing packaged marijuana were detected. Investigators found that the gang recruited shareholders with an angel investment of 100,000 euros ($120,000), allowing the group to quickly expand its chain of warehouses.
The gang had a “well-defined criminal structure” and a “high-degree of specialization” for operating internationally, said Inspector Toni Salleras of the Catalan Mossos d'Esquadra police.
Salleras said that the group is also being investigated for kidnappings and other crimes committed in the competition with other homegrown and foreign criminal groups for control of the production and sales of marijuana.
He said Chinese authorities were assisting in investigating possible human trafficking and money laundering crimes connected to the gang's operation.
The group is accused of making over 700 shipments of parcels to France, Portugal, Netherlands, Germany, Romania and Britain.