Police have broken a drug ring that smuggled cocaine hidden in surfboards bound from South America to Europe, Uruguayan officials said on Tuesday. The capture of the narcotics came after cooperative efforts by anti-drug police in Uruguay, Spain, Portugal and Italy, the officials said.
So far, three Italian citizens have been arrested, two in Portugal and one in Italy, they said.
“Operation Iris is unprecedented in our country because of the scope and significance of international cooperation,” National Police Director Jose Manuel Azambuya said in a conference in which authorities from the other countries participated via video link.
A photo supplied to BBC News by Uruguay’s interior ministry show six surfboards lined up and another image shows white powder spilling from one of the boards after it had been cut open.
Sniffer dogs from an anti-drug unit in Uruguay signaled something suspicious in a package with the six surfboards on May 23, police said. Cocaine was found in the boards.
A total of 90 pounds of cocaine was found in five of the boards, police said. A sixth was allowed to pass through so authorities in Europe could track who was receiving the narcotics.
Portuguese police arrested the two individuals who went to pick up the package, which had transited through Spain, on June 7. The remaining surfboard held about 20 pounds of cocaine, police said.
An Italian citizen who sent the surfboards from Uruguay was arrested in Italy on June 11, and is awaiting extradition to stand trial in Uruguay, a police statement said.
Uruguay, sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, has become in recent years a major transit point for cocaine from Colombia and Peru bound for Europe.
The incident marks the latest in a string of global busts involving cocaine hidden in unusual places.
Last month, deputies in South Carolina found 1,500 grams of the drug stashed behind what they thought was a pregnant woman’s belly.
Also in May, a police dog sniffed out 3 tons of cocaine hidden in banana shipment in the Italian port of Gioia Tauro.
Last year, a drug-sniffing dog led police at a Milan airport to nearly 30 pounds of cocaine stuffed into the leather upholstery of a motorized wheelchair.
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