Authorities in Germany and Belgium seized more than 23,000kg of cocaine, worth billions of dollars, in an international smuggling bust, officials said on Wednesday, calling it the largest amount of cocaine ever seized in Europe.
The operation lasted more than a week and culminated in the arrest on Wednesday of a Dutch importer whose address was on the shipment, police said.
Working on a tip from colleagues in the Netherlands, customs officers in the German port of Hamburg opened three containers on a ship from Paraguay, coming via Tangier and Rotterdam.
The container contents were listed as construction putty, German customs investigation head Rene Matschke told CNN.
In the customs testing facility, investigators found that the cans contained not only putty but also packages of cocaine. Over 16,000kg of cocaine were concealed in 1,728 cans of construction putty.
Dutch authorities followed that seizure by investigating the recipient of the Hamburg shipment, which led them to 11 more containers on their way from Panama to Antwerp, labelled as containing pineapple, mackerel, squid and wood.
Belgian authorities on Saturday found over 7,000 more kilograms of cocaine in the containers carrying blocks of wood, according to the Dutch police.
“The intercepted mega-shipments to the Netherlands together form an absolute record,” the Dutch police said in a statement. “Never before has so much cocaine been intercepted at once.”
Officials said it was not only the largest seizure of cocaine ever in Europe, but one of the largest single seizures worldwide.