Croatian and Serbian police arrested cocaine king Darko Šarić along with few more drug lords. Writes Zdravko Ljubas
Croatian police arrested 10 people suspected of being part of a violent criminal network that brought cocaine from South America to Europe. Simultaneously, police in neighboring Serbia again arrested Serbian cocaine king Darko Šarić, who appears to have been cooperating with the group in Croatia.
The group in Croatia was also involved in aggravated murders, illicit possession, production and trade of weapons and explosive devices as well as other crimes. They sold the drug for more than 17 million euro (US$18.33 million), the Croatian Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organized Crime (USKOK) said in a statement.
More than 100 policemen across the country were involved in the operation that was conducted in cooperation with Eurojust and Europol.
While the country’s law enforcement agencies did not reveal the identities of the arrested, Croatian media reported that the suspects have been members of a criminal gang led by Petar Ćosić, nicknamed Šarac, suspected of organizing the transport of tonnes of cocaine from South America to Europe.
The main suspect has allegedly recruited the other suspects in Croatia, Belgium, Spain, Germany, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Columbia and Ecuador between November 2019 and March 2022.
According to USKOK, he was the “mastermind of the overall plan to smuggle cocaine,” and instructed other gang members, procured cocaine and monitored its transport. He is believed to have overseen the drug being unloaded in Croatian ports, approved its sale and defined the price and payment methods.
Another suspect, who died in the meantime, was based in Ecuador and was in charge of organizing direct contacts with the local drug suppliers, preparing the cocaine for shipment and hiding it in shipping containers with various goods.
Meanwhile in Serbia, police arrested in Belgrade Darko Šarić and four other suspects in what appears to be the same operation. According to a Serbian Interior Ministry statement, the five were also arrested for drug smuggling from South America to Europe.
Šarić was arrested at his Belgrade home, where he was living under house arrest. The elusive drug lord allegedly operated for years in a number of countries and is said to be tied to numerous Serbian and Montenegrin businesspeople and officials.
Šarić and members of his group were first sentenced in 2015, when he received the maximum sentence of 20 years in jail. The Court of Appeal annulled the ruling a year later and ordered a retrial. In 2018, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison, which was affirmed by the Belgrade appeals court.
He was in custody until December last year, when he was transferred to house arrest at his home in Belgrade’s luxury neighborhood Dedinje.
OCCRP Serbian partner KRIK reminded that Šarić has been on trial for more than a decade for international smuggling of more than five tonnes of cocaine and for money laundering.
Both Croatian and Serbian media claim that Šarac, arrested in Croatia, was a close associate of Darko Šarić from Belgrade. They speculated that Šarić actually hired Šarac and his gang to kill his close associate in Ecuador, Milan Milovac aka Cigla (brick).
KRIK describes Cigla as one of the key people in Šarić’s narco cartel, saying that he was indicted in Serbia in 2011 as a member of the cartel and was in charge of selling cocaine in Italy.
Cigla was tried in absentia and sentenced to 11 years in prison. Šarac’s gang organized and paid for his execution last year, but the plan did not work out and Cigla was only badly injured.
Croatia’s USKOK said that the criminal group was considering another attempt, hiring two assassins to go to a hospital in Ecuador, kill policemen