Police in Peru took down an international drug ring hiding cocaine in vegetables

Peruvian police found a little over 4,508 pounds of cocaine hidden in packages of asparagus destined for Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Upon searching the property, authorities found pallets of cans of asparagus ready for shipment. Hidden behind the cans were packages of cocaine.

Members of the Peruvian National Police’s Anti-drugs Office arrested six people, among them a Serbian man and five Peruvians suspected of running a smuggling operation from a gourmet food business that canned fruits and vegetables for shipment, authorities said on Thursday.

Police raided the property late on Wednesday night, after intelligence and surveillance work indicated criminal activity, police and the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

The men arrested ranged in age from 24 to 49.

Authorities reportedly put the value of the shipment at $4 million in Peru and $174 million at its destination.

Two 4×4 SUVs, $75,000 in cash, computer and communication equipment, and a Glock pistol were also seized in the raid on the property of the exporter, Fresh Aromas of Peru Corporation, which is located in the district of Ate on the eastern outskirts of Lima.

Peru asparagus cocaine drug bust raidPeruvian National PoliceA pallet of cans of asparagus concealing packages of cocaine, seized in a raid near Lima on January 11, 2017.

According to a local prosecutor, the group arrested was part of a international drug-trafficking network that shipped cocaine to European countries. The shipment intercepted at the property was ready for transport to Peru’s main port, west of Peru on the Pacific Ocean, from where it would head to Amsterdam.

The investigation began in November, when prosecutors focused on organised-crime activity began gathering evidence on the group’s leaders, who were allegedly acquiring cocaine from the Huallaga region, located in the northern part of Peru’s Amazon rainforest, then transporting it to Lima to be concealed and shipped.

The final state in the investigation involved telephone intercepts and an extended period of surveillance and monitoring, according to RPP Noticias. Authorities moved in on the property at 9 on Wednesday night.

Three suspects were detained there and the other three, who had left the building prior to the raid, were apprehended soon after in neighbouring districts of the city.

Peru is virtually tied with Colombia as the world’s biggest cocaine producer. Peru is also among the world’s largest producers of asparagus, quinoa, avocado, and artichoke.

Authorities there have warned about the growing presence of drug traffickers, and there is extensive evidence that the criminal organisations involved in the drug trade have infiltrated or, at times, bought off parts of Peru’s political and law-enforcement apparatus. Some officials have warned the country is closing to becoming a full-fledged “narco state.”

Drug trafficking from Peruvian ports is believed to have risen since a new law authorizing the military to shoot down drug-smuggling aircraft in the jungle was passed in 2015. The movement of drugs through Peru’s ports has been aided in recent years by efforts by criminal organisations to recruit dock workers to help conceal and transport drug shipments.

(Reporting for Reuters by Mitra Taj; editing by Sandra Maler)

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