German and Belgium customs authorities have seized a record of more than 23 tonnes of cocaine that was destined for the Netherlands worth an estimated street sales value of between €1.5bn and €3.5bn ($1.8bn and $4.2b)
German officials discovered 16 tonnes in five shipping containers that had arrived in the port of Hamburg from Paraguay earlier this month. While police in the Netherlands were notified and a further 7.2 tonnes of cocaine was seized at the Belgian port of Antwerp.
German customs say a 28-year-old man suspected of involvement in the trafficking of the drugs has been arrested in the Netherlands by Dutch police.
The two raids, which took place earlier this month, resulted in the seizure of an “enormous amount of cocaine”, customs officials said on Thursday
In Antwerp, the drug was hidden in a container filled with wooden blocks from Panama while the one found in the German city of Hamburg was concealed in tins of wall filler, which had entered Europe on a container ship from Paraguay.
Officials say they ordered the containers to be emptied after noticing “clear irregularities” with some of the contents – tin cans that were meant to be filled with putty.
“Beyond a layer of genuine goods, packed just behind the container door, numerous tin cans were in fact filled with other goods,” officials said.
Investigators then ordered the containers to be unloaded, and found cocaine stashed away in more than 1,700 tins.
“This is the largest amount of cocaine ever seized in Europe and one of the largest single seizures worldwide,” German customs said, referring to the Hamburg haul alone.
“We are estimating a street sales value of between €1.5bn and €3.5bn ($1.8bn and $4.2bn) for the 16 tonnes,” Hamburg customs official Rene Matschke told AFP news agency.
Hamburg is Europe’s third biggest port, and the largest in Germany.
High-purity cocaine can be cut up or divided, with different substances added to increase profits when sold on the street.