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Nowhere to run for Rome cocaine smuggler

Italian customs officers have nabbed a smuggler whose novel ploy gives new meaning to the term "drug running." The culprit's luggage contained a suspicious number of sneakers, which turned out to be stuffed with cocaine.

Italien Roms Marathon (picture-alliance/dpa/A Carcioni)

Even for participants in the Rome marathon, seven pairs of running shoes would be excessive

Checks on passengers coming from Sao Paulo in Brazil tripped up one apparent tourist after he arrived at Rome's Fiumicino airport, authorities said on Saturday.

Officials from the customs office, conducting a joint operation with police, had decided that the flight route presented a high risk for drug trafficking.

They conducted spot checks on passengers, including one man wearing casual clothes and branded running shoes. To their surprise, the man's suitcase did not contain enough clothes for even a short stay thousands of kilometers from home.

It did, however, contain several more pairs of sneakers.

With their suspicions now raised, one eagle-eyed customs officer took a closer look, and found the rubber soles of the shoes to have a false bottom, with a strange liquid inside.

Instead of the gel normally used to keep runners' feet comfortable and injury-free, tests revealed the substance to be cocaine.

"Only an expert would have been able to tell the liquid wasn't the usual gel," Italy's financial police said Saturday.

The Brazilian national was charged with smuggling seven kilograms (15 pounds) of cocaine, with the highly-pure fluid containing enough cocaine to fetch two million euros ($2.2 million) on the street.

The story was quickly dubbed the case of the "scarpe stupefacenti" - "scarpe" meaning shoes and "stupefacenti" being a play on words, meaning both "amazing" and "narcotic."

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