Welcome to Gateway, a multimedia investigation where we’ll take you into the heart of Europe’s cocaine underworld and reveal the massive, secret economy it has spawned. You’ll get to meet a feared kingpin known for moving metric tons of cocaine through the port of Antwerp, allegedly flinging hand grenades at his rivals, who relocated to Dubai, where he’s found a safe haven. He’s just one of a dozen traffickers from Belgium and the Netherlands already identified by officials investigating their connections to the United Arab Emirates.
Telling this story means documenting the rise of street dealers and their customers in the hipster havens of Antwerp and Rotterdam and across northern Europe, chronicling how old Italian- and Colombian-dominated order gave way to a diverse array of criminal organizations at open war with one another. To understand how the European cocaine trade grew into a terrifying capitalist colossus, we’ll meet bankers, lawyers, and customs officials. We’ll chase the billions of euros washing through Europe’s capitals, corrupting port workers, law firms, customs officials, and even cops, along the way. By the end of this wild journey, you’ll understand how the ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam—two of the most high-tech in Europe—have become conveyor belts of cocaine.
We’ll also lay out the big picture: What happens—and who pays the price—when there’s too much drug money for the economy to absorb?