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US customs officers discover cocaine worth $22 million hidden inside furniture

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cocaine worth $22 million

Customs officials in Philadelphia have seized 321kgs of cocaine in the largest discovery of the drug in the city for a decade, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said today.

The huge shipment was found hidden inside bedroom furniture and kitchen units that were shipped into the US from Puerto Rico.

Officers searched the furniture when it arrived at a seaport on 2 November last year after customs inspectors noticed something unusual about one of the shipping containers in which it was contained.

During the search, 256 bales of white powder were discovered concealed within false walls built into the units.

Tests later revealed the substance was cocaine, and that the shipment had an estimated street value of around $22 million.

In a statement, CBP Acting Area Port Director for the Area Port of Philadelphia Joseph Martella commented: “Customs and Border Protection knows that transnational drug trafficking organisations will take advantage of natural disasters, and in this case an island struggling to recover from a crippling hurricane, to smuggle dangerous drugs to our nation’s mainland.

“CBP officers remain ever vigilant to interdict narcotics loads, and we are pleased to have stopped this deadly poison shipment before it could hurt our communities.”

This seizure was the sixth largest cocaine discovery in the CBP’s history, and the tenth largest discovery of any illicit drug in the Port of Philadelphia.

Casey Owen Durst, the CBP’s Field Operations Director in Baltimore, said: “This seizure is an excellent example of how Customs and Border Protection officers leverage imaging technology to detect and intercept an immense amount of cocaine cleverly concealed in a shipment of furniture.

“Narcotics interdiction remains an enforcement priority for Customs and Border Protection, and a mission that we take very serious.”

In a separate seizure at the end of November, CBP officers at the same seaport found more than 13kgs of cocaine with an estimated street value of $900,000 that had also been shipped into the country from Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico is a popular smuggling hub for traffickers looking to transport drugs into the US, with around 80% of the cocaine that arrives on the island destined for onward transport to America, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s latest assessment.

“Port security is a major regional concern in the Caribbean. Lack of resources, collusion of dock workers with trafficking groups, and sophisticated concealment methods create a significant law enforcement challenge, particularly as drug flow shifts back toward the Caribbean,” the report said.

“Traffickers exploit the high frequency of cruise ship traffic through Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to transport drugs.”

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Woman carrying cannabis bricks in bogus baby belly arrested by Argentine police

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cannabis bricks in bogus baby belly

Law enforcement officers in Argentina have arrested a woman close to the South American country’s border with Chile for attempting to smuggle cannabis concealed inside a fake baby bump.

The woman was searched after police discovered that her travelling companion was in possession of a smaller quantity of cannabis while the pair were on a long-distance coach journey from the city of Mendoza to Caleta Olivia in province of Santa Cruz.

After stopping the pair at a police checkpoint in Valle de Uco close to Mendoza, police found that the woman had hidden 15 packages of cannabis in her bogus baby bump.

The man with whom she was travelling was discovered to be in possession of two packages of the drug in his hand luggage.

Police stopped the pair while conducting routine checks on passengers using the coach route.

In total, the woman and the man were found to be carrying in excess of 4.5kgs of cannabis.

The improvised fake pregnancy bump was held together with a starch-based paste and secured to the woman’s stomach to make it appear as though she was with child.

Posting a picture of the fake baby belly on Twitter, Argentine security minister Patricia Bullrich told her followers: “She made a belly with glue, and hid 15 packages of marijuana inside it while pretending to be pregnant and attempted to move it from Mendoza to Santa Cruz .

“Police arrested the false pregnant woman and her accomplice, preventing her from trafficking the drugs she was carrying.”

In a statement, Argentine police said: “While carrying out control checks, officers stopped a group travelling from Mendoza to Caleta Olivia.

“During the inspection, police observed that a passenger was carrying a black bag that contained two brick-like packages.

“Continuing with their inspection, officers came across a young woman who had a lump in her belly, pretending to be pregnant.

“The two passengers were asked to get off the bus and were later arrested.”

In September 2013, the BBC reported that police in Colombia had arrested a Canadian woman when she attempted to board a flight to Toronto while wearing a fake baby belly that was filled with cocaine.

Police said the woman was searched after she became agitated when asked by a customs officer how far along she was with her pregnancy.

She was found be carrying two sealed bags that contained 2kgs of cocaine.

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Lithuanian and Spanish police smash violent sex trafficking gang that forced scores of women to work as prostitutes

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Lithuanian and Spanish police smash violent sex trafficking gang

A joint operation carried out by law enforcement agencies from Lithuania and Spain has resulted in the break-up of an organised crime network that trafficked women for the purposes of prostitution.

In a day of action coordinated by investigators from both countries, and supported by Europol and Eurojust, 50 searches were conducted at several locations across the two nations, resulting in the seizure of a quantity of cash, drugs, counterfeit documents, weapons and ammunition.

The operation also saw the detention of two leaders of the criminal network in Spain, the arrest of 13 suspected members of the gang in Lithuania, and the identification of 118 suspected trafficking victims from a number of countries including Ukraine and Belarus.

In a statement, Lietuvos Policija said the effort was the result of a two-year investigation into the illegal activities of the trafficking network, which is said to have used extreme violence to force victims to work as prostitutes in Lithuania.

Those arrested are said to have previously been convicted of a range of offences, including robbery, human trafficking, profiting from prostitution, and criminal damage.

All of those held, who were taken into custody where they are currently awaiting trail, have had their assets temporarily frozen.

“Europol supported the investigation by providing coordination and analytical support since the early stages of the joint investigation in 2018,” Europol said.

“Europol supported the action day by providing on-the-spot technical and analytical support in Lithuania and Spain, and by activating the virtual command post to speed up operational information exchange.

“Europol also deployed experts to Lithuania to cross-check operational information in real-time against Europol’s databases.”

Last week, four members of an eastern European sex trafficking gang were jailed for a total of over 36 years for smuggling Slovakian women to Scotland and forcing them into sham marriages, slavery or prostitution.

Vojtech Gombar, Anil Wagle, Jana Sandorova and Ratislav Adam were convicted in October of what the High Court in Edinburgh was told were “utterly repugnant” crimes.

Back in February, a pair of brothers from Romania who trafficked women into Spain before forcing them to work as prostitutes were handed jail terms totalling 108 years.

A Spanish court heard Cristian and Sebastián Sandulache, who were said to have made as much as €11,000 ($12,096) a night by forcing their victims to sell sex, inserted metal balls into their penises in order to cause maximum pain to their rape victims.

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Dutch trucker charged with drug trafficking after UK customs find huge haul of cocaine wrapped in frozen meat

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Officers from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) have charged a Dutch truck driver with attempting to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated £20 million ($25.7 million) into Britain while it was hidden in frozen meat.

The agency, which is often referred to as the UK’s equivalent of the FBI, launched an investigation after customs officers stopped the driver’s truck when it arrived at Harwich International Port in Essex on a ferry from the Hook of Holland on Monday.

While inspecting the load the truck was carrying, investigators discovered multiple packages containing a total of over 200kgs of cocaine that had been wrapped in frozen meat.

The driver, named as 48-year-old Robert Tromp from the Netherlands, was charged with an importation offence, and appeared before Colchester magistrates on Tuesday, where he was remanded in custody until his next appearance at Chelmsford Crown Court on 12 December.

Commenting on Tromp’s arrest, NCA Branch Commander Jacque Beer said: “While forensic checks are still being carried out on this seizure, it is likely that the total haul would have had a street value in excess of £20 million once cut and sold at a street purity level.

“Our investigation into those responsible is continuing, but we can say that this will have put a big dent in the profits of the criminal network likely to be behind it and caused them substantial disruption.

“The illicit drug trade is a key driver behind the gang violence and exploitation we see on UK streets, which is why we, along with partners like Border Force, are determined to do all we can to stop drugs at source and protect the public. This was an excellent detection by our Border Force colleagues.”

Drug traffickers routinely hide their illicit shipments in consignments of food, not least on account of the fact that perishable goods are often fast-tracked through customs checks.

At the end of last month, two drug traffickers from the Netherlands were jailed for a total of more than 11 years by a UK court for attempting to smuggle more than half a tonne of cannabis into Britain by hiding it in consignments of grated pizza cheese and salad.

Dominic Leema and Henrik Ruben were caught after trying to smuggle the drugs through the port of Dover in the south of England, and were said to have been part of a wider organised crime network that used an industrial estate unit to extract the cannabis from the cheese.

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