Argentine customs found 30kg of cocaine hidden in a way they had never seen before, absorbed in of rice headed for Europe via Africa. It was detected by dogs.
The bust underscores Argentina’s role as a shipping point for cocaine produced in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, destined for Africa, and then smuggled north to the lucrative markets of Europe.
Imaginative drug runners soaked rice in water that had been mixed with cocaine, said Guillermo Gonzalez, chief of narcotic investigations for Argentina’s customs agency.
When the water evaporated, the rice was left invisibly “impregnated” with the addictive stimulant.
“It’s a new method,” Gonzalez said. “This is the first time we’ve seen technology this sophisticated.”
Rather than chemically extracting the cocaine from the rice, once it reached its destination, the traffickers probably planned to grind the grains into fine powder and sell it as cocaine.
“Pure cocaine is too strong to be ingested without being cut with something,” said Gonzalez.
“It may have been their plan to cut this shipment with the same rice that was used to carry it.”
Twelve suspects, among them Argentines and Colombians, have been arrested, in what people are calling ‘operation white rice’.
The cocaine was discovered on September 17 in a cargo of 50kg rice sacks, at a warehouse in the port city of Rosario.
It was kept secret for a week, while security agents hunted for more suspects.
“The investigation indicates we have to keep looking. We know that these are international criminal organisations,” Gonzalez said.
The plan was to ship the cargo to Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony referred to by crime experts as Africa’s first ‘narco-state’. Each of the white sacks was stamped ‘Country of origin: Argentina.’
Argentina is a major world food provider. On the banks of the Paraná river, Rosario, the birthplace of the iconic revolutionary Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara’ and soccer phenomenon Lionel Messi, is a departure point for millions of tonnes of soy, wheat and corn, harvested from the Pampas grains belt.
But drug enforcement officials call Rosario ‘the Tijuana of Argentina’, after the Mexican border city, which is used to move cocaine into the US.
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