Spanish police have smashed a plan to unload cocaine worth an estimated £240m and disguised as fork lift pallets into the European drugs market. The country's authorities said that they have arrested at least 11 people in connection with the smuggling attempt in Spain, Britain and Dubai.
The police said that they had seized dozens of pallets made from 1.5 tonnes of compressed cocaine, and had also discovered another stash disguised as charcoal as part of a shipment from Columbia that arrived in the Spanish port of Valencia on 30 November. The haul is just the latest in a series of yet more sophisticated attempts to smuggle the drug that has previously been hidden in a plaster cast, a wig and even breast implants. The authorities said that they suspect that the smugglers used a Spanish charcoal company as a front to smuggle the cocaine that would then extract the drug and distribute it around Europe.
According to the UK National Crime Agency (NCA), 11 people have been arrested: six men from Liverpool apprehended in the UK and Dubai, who have been bailed and another five including two Colombians, two Peruvians and a Spaniard who are being detained in Valencia. NCA officers arrested a 44-year-old at Liverpool Airport, along with a 54-year-old and a 50 year-old in the rooftop car park of the Belle Vale Shopping Centre. Merseyside Police detained a 46-year-old at an address in Knowsley Village. The Dubai Police Anti-Narcotic Unit arrested a 39-year-old and a 38-year-old at a luxury apartment.
The two Colombians, two Peruvians and the Spanish national were detained on 3 December by the Spanish Police in the Valencian town of Chiva at an industrial unit following the delivery of a dummy consignment of charcoal. It is understood that another man had been held in Madrid several months ago in connection with the operation.
Greg McKenna, NCA regional head of investigations, said: "We believe the charcoal company was a front for an industrial-sized lab where cocaine was extracted from pallets and charcoal, processed and repackaged for onward distribution across Europe.
"This seizure of cocaine, the shutting down of the lab and the 11 arrests will have disrupted criminal activity across the whole of Europe."