Spanish police seize 1.4 tons of cocaine camouflaged as wooden pallets

© Susana Vera
Forty pallets from Colombia have been seized in the Spanish port of Valencia and 12 people arrested. The shipment was disguised as wood, but in fact contained up to 1,400 kilograms of compressed cocaine.

A shipping container loaded with what appeared to be sacks of charcoal on wooden pallets arrived at Spain’s second-busiest port of Valencia on November 30. Spanish police acting on intelligence data provided by the British National Crime Agency (NCA) carried out a search.

Forensic examination showed the pallets were made of pressed cocaine powder weighing in total almost 1.4 tons and worth about $363 million, the Telegraph reports. Additionally, some sacks appeared to also contain cocaine disguised as charcoal.

The Spanish authorities suspect the criminals used a charcoal company as a cover for importing drugs. They are also suspected of operating a laboratory to extract the cocaine from the pallets and charcoal for subsequent distribution across Europe.

The drug traffickers used charcoal to mask the scent of the drugs and disorient dogs at the Spanish customs, according to police.

A joint international police operation on December 1, following the seizure of cocaine in Valencia has led to the arrests of 12 people in Spain, the UK and the United Arab Emirates. Four people from Liverpool were detained in Britain and another two were taken into custody in Dubai.

Two Colombians, two Peruvians and a Spaniard were detained in the Spanish town of Chiva near Valencia. The lab used to process the drugs was also shut down.

“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,” Greg McKenna, the NCA regional head of investigations, said.

“This seizure of cocaine, the shutting down of the lab and the 11 arrests will have disrupted criminal activity across the whole of Europe,” he added.

Spain is considered to be one of the major European entry points for drug smugglers due to its close ties with former colonies in Latin America.

In October, Spanish police seized 300 kilograms of cocaine from a shipment of pureed bananas from Costa Rica, which also arrived at the port of Valencia.

The drug smugglers are constantly coming up with more inventive ways to fool Spanish customs. Apart from banana and charcoal shipments, cocaine has been found by Spanish police inside breast implants, a wig, a plaster cast encasing a man's broken leg and a 42-piece crockery set, AFP reports.