The investigation was triggered by the seizure in a shipping container in Santos, Brazil, in November 2018 of 690 kilograms (1,521 pounds) of cocaine addressed to a company in Berlin, Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office said in a statement. That led them to a smuggling network dating back to at least 2011.
The gang disappeared from view after that find, but the investigation pointed to efforts to build new smuggling routes via Colombia, Panama and Mexico, police said.
Alongside the drug smuggling, the participants are accused of using bogus companies to fraudulently apply for aid from coronavirus relief programs and launder money. Those suspected of involvement include a former officer with East Germany's secret police, the Stasi, and an insurance company's office in Berlin.
The suspects are accused of involvement in at least nine cocaine shipments totaling nearly five metric tons. German police said their overall investigation involves a total of 28 suspects, most of them German, and that Turkish, Greek, Iraqi, Georgian, Ukrainian, Latvian and Colombian citizens also were believed to be involved.