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Weapons meant for Ukraine war ending up in hands of gangsters in Spanish seaside city

Weapons intended for the Ukraine war have reportedly ended up in the hands of gangsters in the Spanish seaside city of Sanlúcar, as a recent drug operation by the Civil Guard at the mouth of the Guadalquivir River on May 22 was met with 5.56 x 45 mm calibre bullets—the standard ammunition of NATO’s armed forces.

Although the agents were unable to seize the rifles used in the attack, they have, on previous occasions, confiscated NATO-standard weaponry from drug traffickers operating in the province of Cádiz.

This shift in the armament of drug gangs coincides with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and the subsequent influx of military support to the country led by President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Veteran agents involved in the fight against drug trafficking have expressed their concerns anonymously, noting that many of the weapons now found in the hands of criminals seem to have made a “round trip” to Ukraine. They point to the seizure of Italian-made NATO rifles in Sanlúcar in 2021 as an early indication of this troubling trend.

“This time it has only been possible to seize ammunition, but in other operations, it has been possible to seize US and European-made weapons that have most probably entered the black market thanks to the war in Ukraine,” said one officer.

This issue has been recognized at a higher level, with the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defence, and the National Intelligence Centre (CNI) warning in the latest Annual National Security Report that armed conflicts significantly increase the risk of firearms diversion to the illegal market.

Europol and the National Police have also noted this trend in their recent reports and strategic plans, emphasizing the “short and medium-term increase in the trafficking of arms used by both Russia and Ukraine”.

International reports also support these concerns. Finnish police reported in late 2022 that thousands of weapons sent to Ukraine to combat Russian forces have ended up on the black market.

Similar incidents have also been reported in Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands, where law enforcement agencies have seized assault rifles, pistols, grenades, and even combat drones from European military aid.

The corruption in Ukraine, ranked as the second most corrupt country in Europe before the war, has exacerbated the situation. During the 2014 Donbas crisis, vast numbers of small arms disappeared, likely ending up with European mafias. A 2021 report by the Global Organised Crime Index estimated that only 13% of 300,000 missing small arms and light weapons from Ukraine were recovered.

In response to these growing concerns, the US has deployed teams of military inspectors to Ukraine to track the destination of its arms shipments.

The Professional Association of Justice for the Guardia Civil (JUCIL) has expressed grave concern following the recent shooting incident involving Civil Guard officers in Sanlúcar.

“It is not possible to defend security and the rule of law from poor little boats, with bulletproof vests that are incapable of withstanding the projectiles of rifles and without being able to resort to the use of long arms,” JUCIL’s secretary in Cádiz, Agustín Domínguez, said.

However, the government delegate in Andalusia, Pedro Fernández, has denied that the drug traffickers involved in the recent Sanlúcar shooting were using weapons sent by NATO countries to Ukraine.

“I totally and absolutely deny that weapons that NATO countries are sending to Ukraine were seized from these drug traffickers,” Fernández stated, while acknowledging the challenge of controlling the black market.


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