Half of the maritime shipments to Europe come from Venezuela
Half of the maritime shipments to Europe come from Venezuela Getty

Six Venezuelans and a Colombian have been charged with money laundering and associated criminal enterprise in Venezuela following an unusual sting by French authorities targeting drug trafficking.

The French Navy arrested the seven men aboard their fishing vessel La Union, and seized more than €190,000 (£141,487).

The fishing boat, which carried the Venezuelan flag, was intercepted between the islands of Margarita and Dominica in the Caribbean Sea on 03 February.

During the first hearing, judges charged the seven men for allegedly engaging in crimes of money laundering and associated criminal enterprise. The accused are now being held in pre-trial detention at the Internado Judicial Insular in Margarita, an island situated off the northeastern coast of Venezuela.

According to preliminary information from the Venezuelan Public Ministry, the frigate of the French Navy named "Ventose", requested permission from the Venezuelan authorities to visit and search the ship La Union, after suspecting that the crew was making a possible transfer of drugs to a speedboat.

The smaller vessel, after realising the authorities had spotted it, sped off. However, the French authorities later overtook it and found what they determined were traces of drugs.

Following the discovery, the French officials returned to the larger fishing vessel La Union, where they found a large amount of euros, before placing the crew under the control of the Venezuelan authorities.

This comes less than a week after a former Venezuelan judge, arrested last year by US authorities on the way to a Disney World vacation, was sentenced to more than six years in prison for his role in a major cocaine trafficking case, linked to the government of former president Hugo Chávez.

Prosecutors said Benny Palmeri-Bacchi conspired with a former Venezuelan Interpol director, Rodolfo McTurk, to help traffickers move Colombian cocaine through Venezuela.

Venezuela ranks fourth in the world for cocaine seizures, behind Colombia, the United States, and Panama.

Between 2006 and 2008, over half the maritime shipments of cocaine to Europe detected came from the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, the United Nations found in a 2010 report.