Sweden is one of the main destinations in Europe for cocaine smuggling. Of the seizures made in Guayaquil in Ecuador – currently the most important port for South American cocaine exports according to Europol – Sweden was the fourth largest intended recipient country after Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

In 2022, a total of over three tons of cocaine was stopped in Ecuador, which was going to the port of Helsingborg.

Even in Sweden, seizures are larger than ever. Last year, customs stopped 822 kilograms of the illegal drug, more than three times as much as in 2021.

The increase can partly be explained by the record seizure of half a ton of cocaine in October in southern Stockholm. If the giant batch was intended for the Swedish market, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which is still investigating the case together with customs, does not want to answer.

– Based on how large the seizure was, you could draw certain conclusions, but I cannot go into any details, says prosecutor Tove Kullberg.

The extent of the cocaine that is taken both here and in South America is clear evidence that Sweden is being used as a transit country, according to customs. Not only to the neighboring Nordic countries, of which we were previously aware, but also south through Europe.

– The cocaine we have on the Swedish market mainly comes from the Netherlands. There they bring in the cocaine from South America and bunker it for the European market, says Stefan Granath, head of the Swedish Customs Administration’s control department.

– But now we see how very large quantities come to Sweden in containers, he says.

Every year, around 100-150 tonnes of narcotics are brought into Sweden, according to the police’s rough calculations. How much is transported further, and to what degree it has increased, customs can only speculate.

Stefan Granath covers, among other things, an event from 2020 in the port of Uddevalla. Then the Customs managed to arrest three men, all Albanian citizens, red-handed after they dug up three bags with over 60 kilos of cocaine from the hold of a ship from Colombia.

– In the criminal investigation part, we do not directly see the connection to where the cocaine was going, as is otherwise done. All of a sudden there are foreign people who are there and pick it up, says Stefan Granath.
Sweden is not a high-risk country
The fact that Sweden is used as a transit route can have several explanations. One is that the load will never be checked as carefully when it is then transported on, says Stefan Granath.

– We work based on high-risk countries. We know where the cocaine is manufactured, where the cannabis is manufactured and where the heroin is manufactured and then those countries and modes of transport are monitored much more carefully.

For Swedish customs, the work is made more difficult by the fact that there are few direct routes with South America. Somewhere along a logistics chain, the cargo can be hijacked by organized smuggling.

– Then you wash the container by taking it to Sweden and then down to the Netherlands. Then there is no customs officer who looks at it, says Stefan Granath.

From the police, the image of Sweden as a transit country was strengthened when they gained access to several encrypted chats.

According to Ted Esplund of the National Operations Division’s intelligence unit, it’s not just cocaine smuggling. There are examples of illegal drugs that were sold from Sweden via mail as far away as Australia and the USA.

– I can’t say that we have been completely blind, but we have not seen it but thought of Sweden as a final destination. It is a phenomenon that we need to address, says Ted Esplund.

Most common export countries from South America and European ports with the largest seizures in 2021. Image: Johan Hallnäs/TT

The fact that Sweden is used as a transit country for drug smuggling is particularly evident in the cocaine, says Stefan Granath, head of the control department.

2022: 822 kilos

2021: 261 kilos

2020: 216 kilos

2019: 43 kilos

2018: 488 kilos

2017: 97 kilos

2016: 49 kilos

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