Nine people have been arrested in connection with a cache of cocaine weighing 1.3 tons and valued at $270 million that was stashed away in luggage aboard an Air France flight to Paris, authorities said on Monday.
The cocaine was hidden inside 30 suitcases that were loaded on a jet in Caracas, Venezuela.
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The discovery has been a huge embarrassment for the Venezuelan military, as it controls the airport in the nation’s capital. Venezuela said authorities have arrested two sergeants in its National Guard, along with an officer from the anti-drug unit of the Bolivian National Guard, Agence France-Presse reported
Venezuelan Justice and Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said the smugglers likely had help from accomplices with Air France, and the airline has launched an investigation into the matter, the French news agency said. Police, however, said that none of the six people taken into custody in France was a French citizen or Air France employee.
One aviation security expert said someone working with Air France had to have been involved.
“By definition there must have been help from people inside Air France’s operation in Caracas to get the bags labeled,” Christophe Naudin told the French news agency. “Then there must have been others involved in Paris to ensure they did come out on the conveyer belt and then get them through the freight area.”
French police say the suitcases were registered under false names. AFP said the drugs were likely bound for the Italian mafia based in Calabria that controls most of Europe’s cocaine imports.
Police are saying the cocaine arrived in France Sept. 11, but was not seized until nine days later so that authorities could track who was picking up the contraband.
The seizure was one of the largest in French history, but it was not announced until Saturday.
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