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London police smash $200m drug racket

  • Story Highlights
  • London police have carried out one of Britain's largest simultaneous drug raids
  • 22 people arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking and money laundering
  • Police say they have got key players in a serious and organized criminal network
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- London police said Wednesday they had carried out one of Britain's largest simultaneous drug raids, using more than 500 officers to target suspects at more than 30 addresses in a massive pre-dawn operation.

Police used a mechanical digger to smash down a wall to gain access to the luxury home of one of the suspected leaders

Police used a mechanical digger to smash down a wall to enter a luxury home during the raid

Officers from London's Metropolitan Police arrested 22 people on suspicion of drug trafficking and money laundering, a police statement said. Officers seized an estimated 100 kilos of suspected cocaine, along with cash and firearms, police said.

The Met Police said the raids, which kicked off at 5:30 a.m. (12:30 a.m. ET), targeted a criminal network believed to be one of the biggest drug trafficking networks currently in the United Kingdom. The operation took seven weeks to plan, police said.

As helicopters hovered overhead, 520 officers raided the addresses, which are scattered across the capital. At one address, officers had to use an earth mover to gain entry, police said.

"It was believed the network (was) converting drugs money into 500 Euro notes to launder vast cash profits believed to (be) up to 3 million pounds ($6 million) a week," the police statement said.

Police said the suspects arrested Wednesday are believed to be the top-tier and key players involved in the movement and distribution of cocaine and cannabis throughout the UK.

They are believed to have "substantial" connections in Europe, using those contacts to traffic drugs into Britain, police said.

The Met Police's Special Intelligence Section began investigating the network in August.

"We have targeted the key players in a serious and organized criminal network culminating in a huge blow to the illegal drugs industry in the UK," said Detective Superintendent Steven Richardson, head of the SIS.

"These criminals have been living the lives of wealthy businessmen through criminal activity and today we have put a stop to this."

He said the network were believed to have processed around £100m ($200m) in the last six months, most of it believed to be the proceeds of drug trafficking.

Many of the addresses are in affluent London neighborhoods home to celebrities and expatriate businessmen. Most are residential addresses, but some are businesses, police said.

"Each address was individually risk-assessed to work out the (custom) method of entry," police said. "Supported by specialist staff from the Method of Entry Unit, who use a full range of specialist entry equipment, every address was entered despite having to combat a range of unique defense features." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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