| - Copyright AP Photo/Peter Dejong|
Forty-five people have been arrested in a major international operation against a drug-trafficking network between Brazil and Europe, Europol announced on Friday.
The European police agency also revealed that more than 52 tonnes of cocaine were also seized by law enforcement agencies.
Three continents were involved in the investigation to find the "record haul", which has been described as the "biggest ever crackdown" of its kind.
The international investigation had been brought together by Europol in April and was led by authorities in Portugal, Belgium, and Brazil
More than one thousand police officers conducted 179 house searches in different countries early on Friday morning, which led to the arrests.
Thirty-eight people were detained in Brazil, four in Belgium, two in the United Arab Emirates, and one in Spain.
Europol, which coordinated the operation, has described the suspects as members of a "highly professional criminal syndicate".
The drug trafficking network is believed to have imported at least 45 tonnes of cocaine into main European seaports each year, with profits exceeding €100 million over six months.
According to Europol, the criminal network had direct contacts with drug cartels in Brazil and other South American countries that were responsible for preparing and shipping cocaine, transported to Europe via sea containers.
"The scale of cocaine importation from Brazil to Europe under their control and command is massive and over 52 tonnes of cocaine were seized by law enforcement over the course of the investigation."
The agency also said that the main targets of the operation were identified with support from the French and Dutch-led investigation against the encrypted phone network Encrochat.
Authorities also seized 70 luxury vehicles in Brazil, Belgium, and Spain in the raids as well as 37 aircraft in Brazil.
Also recovered was over €12 million in cash in Portugal, €300 000 in cash in Belgium, and over R$1 million Brazilian Real (~€157,000) and $169 000 (~€141,000) in cash from Brazil.
A further 163 properties were seized in Brazil worth in excess of R$132 million (€20.7 million) as well as two houses in Spain valued at €4 million, and two apartments in Portugal worth €2.5 million.
Ten individuals in Spain have also had their assets frozen as part of the operation, Europol said.
"This operation highlights the complex structure and vast reach of Brazilian organised crime groups in Europe," said Europol’s Deputy Director, Wil van Gemert.
"The scale of the challenge faced today by police worldwide calls for a coordinated approach to tackle the drug trade across continents."
"The commitment of our partner countries to work via Europol underpinned the success of this operation and serves as a continued global call to action," he added.
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