Spanish police have broken up a major drugs ring run by Abdellah El Haj, a Moroccan citizen, also known as the "Messi of hashish", AFP has reported, citing a spokesman for Spain's Guardia Civil force.
During an operation, police seized five boats, 17 vehicles, several weapons and more than half a million euros. A shipyard that was building the speed boats used to smuggle the drugs across from Morocco was dismantled, a statement quoted by the agency says.
According to AFP, the operation began in February on the British territory of Gibraltar after police found a boat that was on the verge of sinking with three crew onboard and 84 packages of hashish. Since them, 45 people have been arrested in connection with the case and warrants were issued against 16 more, including the drug ring's leader, El Haj.
The arrests have undermined one of the most active drugs networks operating on the Guadalquivir river, which is considered the main route for drug smuggling from Morocco into Spain, the agency says, quoting a statement from the force.
Police arrested the Moroccan drug trafficker in the city of Algeciras in the Campo de Gibraltar region of Spain in November 2017 but released him on bail last March. Since then his whereabouts have been unknown but he runs the network from the outside, a spokesman for Spain's Guardia Civil force said, as quoted by AFP.
According to the Spanish press, El Haj is known as "Messi" because he regularly posts photos on social media wearing a replica of Argentinian footballer Lionel Messi's jersey.