Monday, 27 March 2017

Alleged smugglers got caught trying to hide cocaine in fake bananas

Fake bananas cocaine Spain drug bust

Spanish authorities on Sunday announced the arrest of two men as part of an investigation that seized 37.5 pounds of cocaine hidden in a shipment of bananas — 15 pounds of it in fake bananas.

The investigation — led by Spain's Civil Guard and customs authorities and called Operation "Esplit" — started in November after the cocaine was seized in the southern coastal city of Malaga and the Mediterranean coast city of Valencia.

At the time, police found a little over 15 pounds of cocaine hidden in fake bananas made of resin. The remainder of the cocaine was found hidden in the flaps of the cardboard boxes used to ship the bananas.

Spanish police arrested two men, 37 and 57 years old, and are investigating a third person, a 57-year-old Italian man. The two arrestees are charged with drug trafficking and are accused of belonging to a criminal organization.

The November seizure came just two months after authorities in the southern Spanish city of Sevilla seized nearly 2,000 pounds of cocaine hidden in a commercial shipment of bananas. (Several months before, Romanian authorities intercepted over 2.3 tons of cocaine hidden in banana crates.)

Spain fake bananas cocaine drug bust

The November seizure, like the load caught in Sevilla two months prior, was sourced to South America, and the busts underscore how Spain remains an important transit point for cocaine and other drugs from South America headed toward consumers around Europe.

"The countries that seized the most cocaine over the period 2011–14 were Spain (accounting for about 50% of all seizures) and Belgium," followed by France, Italy, the UK, and Portugal, the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction said in its 2016 report.

Maritime transport of illegal narcotics is a common tactic for traffickers sending drugs to Europe, and smugglers have taken to using perishable goods like bananas to conceal their wares.

Drug trafficking Europe South America Africa map

"Concealing the drugs within shipments of perishable goods is a common tactic as there are procedures to allow these to pass through ports more quickly," the EMCDDA report says.

This tactic is also common among traffickers in North America, often because smells from food and other goods can mask drug odors and deter inquisitive customs officials.

While the suspects involved in this case are European, Colombian cocaine — and Colombians trafficking it — have long been present in Spain and Europe.

Two recent incidents — the bust of 5,677 pounds of cocaine and the arrest of six people in Spain in December, followed by the seizure of 5,291 pounds of cocaine and the arrest of 24 members of a Colombian drug ring this month — suggest the cocaine boom seen in Colombia over the last few years has made traffickers more active in Spain, Europe's drug gateway.

SEE ALSO: In the world's biggest cocaine producer, cultivation reportedly surged again in 2016

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