Busted: The Rotterdam drug cafe for Europe’s Mr Bigs

Paul Peachey reports on the quiet coffee shop where huge narcotics deals were on the menu
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It boasts a wealthy but shadowy clientele, an invitation-only door policy and public reviews on the quality of the coffee are definitely not encouraged. The secrets behind one of the most exclusive cafes in Europe was revealed after police kicked down the door of what they claimed was a members-only club for drug cartel leaders where they would swap ideas over coffee and organise their illicit trade.

In the raid, on what police described as a one-stop shop for trade expertise, knowledge and contacts, officers discovered a cache of weapons, hundreds of thousands of euros, a cash-counting machine and dozens of mobile phones. A radio scanner and jammer and high value watches were also found inside the cafe in Rotterdam.

Despite the cafe sign hanging outside, a buzzer system and security cameras ensured that only established and known gang members were  allowed inside. Officers believe that drug traffickers from Spain, Holland, South America and Britain all used the café, in a busy residential area, to thrash out financing deals and to  organise the transport of drugs.

Two Turkish brothers who ran the cafe are in custody after a series of raids in Holland and Britain on suspected customers. The brothers were believed to be taking a commission for introducing other major players in the drugs world and the establishment was said to have operated for years.

Police in Britain were hunting for two men from Liverpool who were suspected of using the  operations centre to orchestrate major drug importations into Britain. Police searched properties in Britain of Robert Stephen Gerrard, 50, and Michael Paul Moogan, 27, and believe that they could be on the run in mainland Europe or Britain.

Steve Baldwin, Regional Head of Investigations for the National Crime Agency, said: “This was a well-established set up which was open 18 hours a day. It appears you were only allowed in if your face was known. Taking it out of operation will have caused serious disruption to the activities of organised crime groups across the world.”

Further raids by officers from the NCA linked to the operation saw three men arrested in Britain. A 64-year-old from Hale, Greater Manchester was charged with conspiracy to import up to 80 kilos of cocaine a month since April. Two men, aged 36 and 47, from Essex were released on bail.

Dutch officers arrested eight more people in raids across Rotterdam, seizing nine handguns, two semi- automatic rifles, a cocaine press and €200,000. As one of the world’s major shipping centres, the city is a key hub for drug smuggling operations.

Rival criminal gangs have increasingly developed strategic alliances to share “best practice” and prevent deadly turf wars that attract police attention, a senior figure in the European police organisation told The Independent last year.

Europol’s 2013 Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment said cooperation between gangs helped them secure niche services. Some work, such as accessing corrupt officials, was subcontracted, it said.

Troels Oerting, the assistant director of Europol, said that sharing of  logistics and expertise was a growing trend for gangs. “What we are seeing now is a level of exchange of best practice and good ideas,” he said.

The growing cooperation is highlighted by the estimate that 70 per cent of the major criminal gangs  active in the EU, which are believed to total around 3,600, now operate on a multinational basis.

The Home Office believes that  organised crime in Britain alone costs the country up to £40m a year, with drug smuggling remaining the most popular and lucrative area.