F1 Front For Drug Dealers?

Customs officials are looking into allegations of a link between Formula One motor racing and cocaine smuggling amid accusations that Grand Prix cars may have been used to conceal drugs as they are transported around the world, the Sunday Times reported.

Quoting mostly unidentified police detectives and customs sources, the newspaper said customs officers were tipped off by an informant from the motor racing world 18 months ago and recently began monitoring the movement of Formula One personnel and equipment through the British port of Dover.

The report came on the day of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone.

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone declined to comment, the newspaper said, but an unidentified aid of Ecclestone was quoted as saying: "He did not have any knowledge or evidence that individuals within F1 were doing anything of the sort. If he had information or evidence he would have taken it to the police."

The newspaper reported that an earlier investigation by Scotland Yard into whether racing cars and their containers were being used as a cover for cocaine smuggling between South America and Europe was inconclusive.

Duncan MacLaughlin, a former drugs squad detective in charge of the investigation, was quoted in the paper as saying the informers in the motor racing world had alleged that Formula One was being used as a front for cocaine trafficking.

The newspaper said the investigation, which ended in 1997, was looking into allegations that drugs were being stashed in car parts and equipment and loaded into containers before being transported from South America to Europe.

The report said MacLaughlin said Ecclestone telephoned him in November 1997 to offer full cooperation.

Detectives had planned to ask former Formula One champion Nigel Mansell to help in a sting operation, the newspaper said. Mansell declined to comment to a reporter, the paper added.

The Sunday Times said a Formula One insider, who was not identified, said he had been interviewed by police investigating the claims. The paper also quoted another unidentified man as saying he believed he was the target of a police sting operation.

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