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Moroccan dessert-shop owning hashish kingpin arrested in international sting

Morocco is the world's largest hashish exporter [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 December, 2016

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Ben Ziane Berhili fronted as the owner of a successful dessert company but is said to have overseen the smuggling of 400 tons of hashish into Europe every year

One of the world’s most wanted hashish smugglers has been arrested in Morocco, Italian police revealed on Thursday.

Ben Ziane Berhili, who owns a large dessert company in Morocco employing around 60 staff, was arrested in Casablanca in November in part of an ongoing anti-trafficking operation spanning three continents.

However, police did not reveal Berhili’s arrest until December 1.

According to Italian investigators, Berhili oversaw operations smuggling 400 tons of hashish into Europe every year.

His arrest is part and parcel of an international investigation into drug trafficking routes to Europe from Morocco and Libya, Italian media reported.

The security forces of Mediterranean countries including Greece, France, Spain, Turkey, Egypt, Italy, Albania and Morocco are all said to be involved in the process, with the US’ Drug Enforcement Administration also joining the hunt.

Since 2013 the investigation has seized over 280 tonnes of hashish with a street value of around $3.2 billion, reported The New York Times.

Italian agents surveilled telephone calls made by Mr Berhili for a number of months before making the arrest, with the cooperation of Moroccan authorities. Berhili’s son was previously arrested by police and is said to have attempted to bribe his arresting officers with 250,000 euros in cash.

Hashish produced in Morocco is thought to be transported from Casablanca to the Libyan coastal city of Tobruk, and on to Egypt before eventually reaching the Balkans from where it is distributed across Europe.

Previously Morrocan hash was smuggled into Europe via Spain on speedboats and Jet Skis travelling across the Straits of Gibraltar. However, the route fell out of favour with drug smugglers after Spain began installing cameras along its southern coastline in 2007.

Investigators have previously expressed concern that Islamic State militants in Libya – who took advantage of internal chaos in the country after the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi to seize territory– could profit from the drug trade, for example by exacting a tax in order to guarantee produce safe passage through territory it controls.

According to IHS Jane's, 7 percent of IS revenues from Syria and Iraq came from the production, taxation and trafficking of drugs. But, to date, officials have not revealed any incontrovertible proof linking the trade of Morrocan hash to the extremist group.

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