Spanish police bust 'Colombian-style' cocaine lab
Police in Spain said Friday they had for the first time dismantled a cocaine laboratory similar to those found in Colombia and smashed a smuggling ring with the arrest of 12 people.
The ring is suspected of smuggling "signficant quantities" of cocaine mixed with palm kernel meal, a vegetable substance used for animal feed, from South America into Spain, police said in a statement.
The gang then used chemicals at the secret lab in Nijar, a quiet town of white-walled houses and narrow streets in the southwestern region of Andalucia, to extract the cocaine from the mix.
"It is the first time that a lab has been dismantled in Spain that used practices similar to those used by drug trafficking organisations in laboratories in the jungle in Colombia, where an alkaloid is extracted from the coca leaf and then processed," the statement said.
Police said the man charged with processing the substance at the laboratory was a Colombian national known as "El quimico" or "The chemist".
Five Colombians, five Spaniards, a Nigerian and a Peruvian were arrested in Madrid, Almeria, Toledo and Cadiz as part of the operation which involved months of surveillance.
The authorities also seized 229 kilos (504 pounds) of cocaine as well as several weapons and chemicals used in the lab to extract the cocaine.
Police said they opened their investigation in December 2013 after being tipped off by authorities in the United States and Colombia that a group of Colombian origin would try to bring a large shipment of cocaine into Spain.
Spain's proximity to north Africa, a major source of hashish, and its close ties with its former colonies in Latin America, a key cocaine-producing region, have made it the main gateway into Europe for drug traffickers.
The amount of cocaine seized in Spain rose 28.6 percent last year to 27 tonnes, according to interior ministry figures.
© 2014 AFP