MADRID (Reuters) – Spanish police have busted a cocaine-smuggling ring that dodged detection by mixing the drug with industrial plastic pellets before chemically removing it in three specially designed laboratories.
Twelve people were arrested as part of the operation announced on Wednesday, which police hailed as the country’s biggest-ever seizure of cocaine-processing infrastructure.
One of the laboratories, which are located in Madrid and Toledo, was capable of producing up to 500 kg (1,102 lb) of cocaine per month. The other two handled smaller volumes, a police statement said.
As an ingredient of the plastic pellets, which are used to make items such as bottle tops and food containers, the cocaine could not be detected during routine customs checks. Chemicals and machinery were used to extract the cocaine at the processing laboratories.
The crime ring was run by a family of Colombian origin, whose leader lived in a luxurious house on the outskirts of Madrid.
Police, who did not say how much the gang was suspected of smuggling, said three Colombian experts on cocaine extraction had been brought in to work round-the-clock for 10 days at one of the laboratories.
Police also seized 600 kg (1,323 lb) of pellets, 30 kg (66 lb) of cocaine paste and large quantities of chemicals.
(Reporting by Sabela Ojea; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Helen Popper)