Mexican pilot timed drug shipment to pope arrival - police

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Spanish police have arrested a Mexican airlines pilot suspected of picking a flight that arrived at Madrid's main airport at the same time as Pope Benedict XVI to try to smuggle cocaine into the country, they said Friday.

The 40-year-old was detained at Madrid's Barajas airport on August 18 after police found 42.1 kilos (92.8 pounds) of cocaine in his luggage after he disembarked from a flight from Mexico City, police said in a statement.

Pope Benedict arrived at the airport on a flight from Rome at around the same time for a four-day visit to preside over the Roman Catholic Church's World Youth Day celebrations.

Police said they believe the pilot picked the flight which arrived at that time to transport the drugs "because he thought police would shift officers from the customs service to provide security for the pope".

Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia greeted the pope when he arrived at the airport.

The 84-year-old head of the Roman Catholic Church then attended a brief welcoming ceremony that involved a group of boys dressed as Swiss Guards before he made his entrance into Madrid in a popemobile.

Last year police detained three Aeromexico flight attendants at Barajas airport after they found over 140 kilos of cocaine in their luggage.

Spain's close ties with its former colonies in Latin America, a major cocaine producing region, have made it Europe's main entry point for the drug.

© 2011 AFP

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