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German authorities seize $2.78 billion in cocaine, call it a record bust

Meth, cocaine found in jalapeño paste shipment
Meth, cocaine found hidden in jalapeño paste shipment 00:22

German investigators seized 39 tons of cocaine worth more than $2.78 billion hidden among vegetables and fruits in several container ships, officials announced Monday. Seven people have been arrested in what investigators called the county's biggest cocaine bust.

Prosecutors in the western city of Dusseldorf said they confiscated the drug last year following a tip from Colombian authorities. They said about 27.5 tons of cocaine was found in the port of the northern city of Hamburg, another 8.8 tons in the Dutch port of Rotterdam and nearly 3.3 tons in Colombia.

The suspects being accused of orchestrating the cocaine smuggling—aged between 30 and 54— were arrested in recent weeks. The seven include German, Azerbaijani, Bulgarian, Moroccan, Turkish and Ukrainian nationals, the prosecutors said in a statement. Their identities were not given, in line with German privacy rules.

Pk on record cocaine find worth billions
Around 35 tons of cocaine were seized in overseas containers in the port of Hamburg. Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

A businessman from the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia set up 100 letterbox companies to make the transports appear legal, they said.

"Specifically, the suspects are accused of organizing the transport of 10 sea containers with large quantities of cocaine from Latin America to Europe in the period from April to September 2023 with other as yet unknown accomplices allegedly residing in Turkey via front companies set up for this purpose," a written statement by prosecutors said.

The state justice minister of North Rhine-Westphalia, Benjamin Limbach, praised the huge cocaine seizure at a news conference in Duesseldorf. He said it was the "largest cocaine find on European soil," according to Sky News.

"This is a blow to international organized criminality," Limbach said. "It's a precise punch in the jaw that hurts the drug lords."

On Friday, German Interior Nancy Faeser hailed the seizure, though exact details had not been revealed until the news conference on Monday.

"The flood of cocaine into Europe is destroying people —and generating billions in profits for the cartels," Faeser said in a statement, according to Reuters.

Last week, local media outlets, citing the state justice ministry of North Rhine-Westphalia, said the seizure of the cocaine was part of a criminal investigation dubbed "OP Plexus."

The arrests and seizure also come after Europol announced it had arrested about 40 people in a years-long operation to bust a major drug smuggling ring. They seized eight tons of cocaine.

The cartel, whose leaders were based in Turkey and Dubai, had been dealt a major blow after a final set of arrests Wednesday, the Hague-based police coordination agency said.

Europol released images and a nearly 10-minute video Thursday, showing K-9 dogs and officers finding bags of suspected drugs as well as multiple suspects being detained. The video also shows at least one boat being intercepted at sea with officers unloading bags of suspected narcotics.

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