Spanish, Venezuelan police smash cocaine ring
Spanish and Venezuelan police smashed a huge cocaine trafficking network, arresting 13 people and seizing 6.7 tonnes of the drug, Spanish police said Thursday.
Arrests in both countries led to the "dismantling of a large organisation which was planning to smuggle 6.7 tonnes of cocaine concealed in construction machinery into Spain via the port of Bilbao," it said.
The cocaine was intercepted in Venezuela, while eight people were also arrested there and five in Spain, including the trafficking ring's boss, said the Guardia Civil.
The Spanish police had launched an investigation after receiving a tip that a drugs kingpin was planning to smuggle cocaine into Spain concealed in the double bottoms of a large machinery shipment.
Confirmation that the shipment was about to leave the port of Puerto Caballo in early June was received and the Venezuelan authorities were able to launch a raid.
Subsequent searches led to the full dismantling of the money-laundering network, which included "horse riding schools, bars, restaurants, more than 200 heavy construction machines and 30 luxury motor vehicles."
Spanish police also announced that their French counterparts in the Antilles seized 1.1 tonnes of cocaine onboard a yacht coming from the small island of Isla Blanquilla, around 100 miles (160 kilometres) off the coast of Venezuela.
Two German crew members were arrested while a Dutch national, suspected of being in charge of the drugs' transport, was nabbed in Spain as he attempted to flee the country.
With the saturation of North American markets for cocaine, Latin American druglords have turned their attention to Europe, where consumption of the drug has doubled in the last decade.
According to the latest UN report on global drug trends, the European cocaine market is worth 33 billion dollars and approaching parity with that of the United States.
Spain is the main European gateway for cocaine from Latin America and cannabis from North Africa.
© 2011 AFP