The Swedish narcos escaping the cold in Spain’s Costa del Sol

In the past five years, violent gangs from Sweden have increased their presence in Málaga province, drawn in by the warm weather and high quality of life

Police cordon off an area of Marbella in the wake of David Ávila’s murder in May 2018.
Police cordon off an area of Marbella in the wake of David Ávila’s murder in May 2018.ALF (EFE)

The murder of a drug trafficker leaving his son’s First Communion; bombings and shootings in broad daylight; hitmen who carry out assassinations at dawn and escape on bicycles; Kalashnikovs and kidnappings; a money laundering scheme involving relatives of Marbella’s mayor; fugitives and drugs. On Spain’s Costa del Sol, all of these movie-like elements have one thing in common: Sweden.

In the last five years, criminal gangs from the Scandinavian country have shifted to this corner of Málaga province, bringing their extremely violent tactics with them. They are feared for their cold-blooded modus operandi and their ability to penetrate any sector of society. Marbella is their logistics hub.

“Sweden has a serious problem with organized crime,” explains Manne Gerell, professor of Criminology at the Swedish University of Malmö. The data indicates it has one of the highest rates of firearm deaths in Europe, with more than 200 victims in the last five years. In 2020, the record was broken with 48 murders, the vast majority of which were related to the fight over the drug trafficking market. Why are these organized crime groups moving their war to Málaga province? “They want to be closer to the drug distributors because it brings more profit,” says Gerell.

In Spain, it is easier to live with a criminal record and also spend the money earned from crime
Diamant Salihu, journalist specializing in organized crime in Sweden

Sources from the Swedish police’s National Operations Department (NOA) confirm this and add that the gangs are also gravitating to the Costa del Sol because of the popularity of Marbella, which is envied in Sweden for its climate, luxury and quality of life.

Diamant Salihu, a journalist specializing in organized crime in Sweden, also points out that criminals feel they can pay large amounts in cash in Spain without anyone questioning the money’s origins. He speaks of corruption. “In Spain, it is easier to live with a criminal record and also spend the money earned from crime,” he says.

It is mainly the leaders of the criminal organizations who move to Spain. They can be found in the province of Málaga, but also in Barcelona, where the Civil Guard arrested two members of the notorious Dödspatrullen – or Death Patrol – gang in February 2019. On the Costa del Sol, a precarious balance is maintained in which each gang gets its share of the pie. Sometimes, however, there are problems. Either business deals do not come off or one organization robs another, leaving a trail of corpses in its wake. Shootings with Kalashnikov assault rifles are not uncommon. And conflicts are resolved by hitmen who sell themselves to the highest bidder and share the following characteristics: they are very young, especially violent and influenced by TV series. “They imitate movies, their idols are mafia figures and they try to emulate them,” explained Petra Stenkula, police commissioner in the southern region of Sweden in 2018.

More than a few police officers are surprised by the intense violence used in some of the murders committed around Marbella. “There have even been cases when an entire magazine has been emptied on their victim, who has then been finished off with more shots at point-blank range,” says one.

A review of police operations indicates that on the Costa del Sol there have been more than 100 arrests of Swedish-based gang members since 2018. Among the most well-known names is that of Amir Mekky, who is thought to be behind two murders in Spain: that of David Ávila, a drug trafficker also known as “Maradona,” in 2018 as he was leaving the church in San Pedro Alcántara after his son’s First Communion; and that of Moroccan Sofian Mohamed, alias Zacato, in this case in the garden of his luxury villa in Estepona. Mekky led a network of hitmen known as Los Suecos or The Swedes, who are accused of around 20 murders in Sweden.

A kilo of marijuana costs €1,500 in Andalusia and sells for €9,000 in Scandinavian countries

Police are permanently engaged in the fight against these organizations; there are investigators from the Costa del Sol Drugs and Organized Crime Unit (Udyco), the Organized Crime Response Group (Greco), the Specialized and Violent Crime Unit (Udev) and the Civil Guard. “There are resources, but they are never enough,” says one of the heads of Udyco Central. His goal is clear: to stop the criminals from setting up home in Spain. “If they do, they will bring everything with them: homicides, extortion, explosives,” adds another investigator who recognizes that the violence rarely reaches the general public nor is used against the police, remaining instead among the gangs themselves, though he adds, “It could all blow up any day.”

Certainly, the tentacles of some gangs have spread in Marbella. Last February, the husband and stepson of Marbella’s mayor, Ángeles Muñoz – Swedes Lars Gunnar Broberg and Joakim Peter Broberg – were arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking and money laundering in an operation which began after a tip-off from the Swedish police. Another 71 people linked to a Swedish crime organization were arrested in the same bust.

The case illustrates why the Costa del Sol is the criminal gang’s location of choice: first, they came to acquire drugs; they brought the drugs in from Morocco, stored them on the coast of Málaga then moved them to northern Europe using removal vans among other means. The profits are enormous: a kilo of marijuana costs €1,500 in Andalusia and sells for €9,000 in Scandinavia. Later they expanded their business; art, gold and luxury homes were used to launder the money. “This organization shows the incidence of Swedish criminality in Spain,” police sources state.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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