Fri, Sep 25, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Rice impregnated with cocaine found en-route to Europe

Reuters, BUENOS AIRES

Argentine customs agents found about 30kg of cocaine hidden in a way they had never seen before when drug-sniffing dogs found the drug had been absorbed into grains of rice headed for Europe via Africa, an official said on Wednesday.

The bust underscores the role Argentina has come to play 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.

In this case, drug runners soaked rice in water that had been mixed with cocaine, Argentina’s customs agency head of narcotic investigations Guillermo Gonzalez said.

When the water evaporated, he said, the rice was left invisibly “impregnated” with the addictive stimulant.

“It’s a new method. This is the first time we’ve seen technology this sophisticated,” Gonzalez said.

He said that rather than employing a chemical process to extract the cocaine from the rice once it reached its destination, the traffickers likely 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. It might have been their plan to cut this shipment with the same rice that was used to carry it,” he added.

Twelve suspects, including Argentines and Colombians, have been arrested in what has been called “Operation White Rice.”

The scheme was discovered on Thursday last week when drug sniffing dogs detected cocaine in a cargo of 50kg rice sacks at a warehouse in Rosario, Santa Fe.

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 organizations,” Gonzalez said.

The plan was to ship the cargo to Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony. Each of the white sacks was stamped “Country of Origin: Argentina.”

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