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article imageFrench authorities seize record $270 million cocaine haul

By Robert Myles     Sep 23, 2013 in World
Paris - Venezuelan authorities moved swiftly to make a number of arrests associated with a seizure by French police of a huge illicit stash of cocaine aboard an Air France flight from the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, bound for a Paris airport.
But behind the headlines, there are fears in Venezuela that, as peace talks between the government of neighboring Colombia and FARC guerrillas inch toward a resolution that would bring over 30 years of fighting to an end, former guerrillas may pose a growing threat to law and order in Venezuela.
France’s Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, announced Sunday that French police had seized a record haul comprising 1.3 metric tons of pure cocaine at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. The seized drugs, estimated to have a record-busting European street value of 200 million euros, (about $270 million), were packed into 30 suitcases and were impounded by French police on Sept. 11.
Valls told reporters the operation was carried out in collaboration with Spanish, British and Dutch police. The Interior Minister said, “several members of a criminal organization" had been arrested, reports the Daily Star.
Commenting on the massive drugs haul, France’s interior minister said it showed the "importance of strengthening international cooperation in the fight against traffickers." He made his remarks while displaying the 30 empty suitcases used in an attempt to smuggle the cocaine into Europe. None of the luggage was linked to anyone on the flight’s passenger manifest.
Three Venezuelan servicemen arrested
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, the country’s Minister of Justice Miguel Rodriguez Torres announced Saturday that three Venezuelan servicemen had been arrested in connection with ongoing police and intelligence service enquires into the huge drugs seizure on the opposite side of the Atlantic. Those arrested were a lieutenant and two sergeants in Venezuela’s Bolivarian National Guard.
Speaking on Venezuelan state television channel VTV, Minister Rodriguez confirmed details of the seizure from the Air France Caracas to Paris flight and the arrests in Venezuela. He also made reference to French law enforcement authorities having focused on an Italian-British gang, saying French authorities were holding three Italian and three British nationals in connection with the cocaine seizure.
Mr. Rodriguez suggested that further arrests may follow referring to the “almost certain complicity of airline employees” with Venezuelan military authorities, questioning how such a quantity of bags with smuggled cargo could have arrived in France without going through normal security checks, reports French language Le Parisien.
Mr. Rodriguez, a close confidante of Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and longtime ally of the late President Hugo Chavez, is also director of Venezuela’s National Intelligence Service. In an interview carried by Venezuelanalysis last week, Mr. Rodriguez expressed his concerns about the problems of neighboring Colombia spilling over to Venezuela.
As a result of peace talks between the Colombian government and the militias of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) making progress toward a conclusion, an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 former members of right-wing Colombian militias are in the course of being demobilized. Many of these now unemployed militiamen, with years of experience in warfare, assassinations, kidnappings and drug trafficking, have moved to Venezuela, resulting in an upsurge in crime, claims Rodriguez.
While there is yet no direct link between the Paris seizure of cocaine and any trail leading back to Colombia, the fear for authorities in Venezuela and Europe is that Venezuela could become the unwilling conduit for a new traffic in illegal drugs, despite Venezuela being considered by the United Nations as a drugs non-producer.
More about Drug trafficking, Paris cocaine bust, record drugs haul, Colombian drugs cartels, Farc
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