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Record coke bust in Port of Hamburg

Alistair Walsh with dpa
July 20, 2017

German police have seized several tons of cocaine in the latest example of the so-called "rip-off" shipping method. Crime gangs secrete drugs in regular shipments without the knowledge of the actual sender or reciever.

German authorities present a record haul of cocaine
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius

German Customs seized a record 3.8 metric tons (4.2 imperial tons) of cocaine in the Port of Hamburg, they announced on Thursday.

The drugs had a reported street value of 800 million euros ($920 million).

The drugs were seized from three separate shipments from South America between March and May, authorities said.

Read: Italian police strike at 'beating heart' of 'Ndrangheta mafia

Read: Police arrest Brazil's cocaine kingpin Luiz Carlos da Rocha

Three separate seizures

Armed police guard a record haul of cocaine in Hamburg
The seizures all used the so-called rip-off method where legitimate shipments are exploited by traffickersImage: picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius

Authorities seized a shipment of about 1.5 metric tons at the end of March, then 1.6 metric tons in April, the largest ever secured in Germany, and then 788 kilograms (1737 pounds) in early May.

Customs said the seizures underscored a new trend in commercial drug trafficking. Officials said that, as they seized an increasing number of small shipments between 50 kilograms and 150 kilograms, traffickers were increasingly moving towards larger shipment sizes.

"This outstanding success by customs once again demonstrates that our control strategy, with a combination of intelligent risk analysis, the use of modern detection technology and hard working customs agents, is working" said Werner Gatzer, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Finance.

The first two shipments came from Paraguay and were both concealed in multiple containers of coal. The third seizure came from Uruguay in containers of animal feed.

Rip-off method

All three shipments used the so-called "rip-off" method. In this method, legitimate shipments are exploited to smuggle contraband, without the knowledge of the shipper nor the consignee, according to the UNODC. The 2016 EU Drug Markets Report found this method accounted for 70 percent of seizures in 2012.

"Corrupt officials and port employees facilitate this form of trafficking, and there are concerns that the (organized crime groups) involved in cocaine trafficking may be making systematic efforts to corrupt workers in all major ports to facilitate shifting of routes as necessary," the EU report said.

In this instance, the colorful packages of cocaine were hidden in sports bags just behind the container doors to be removed, along with a fake customs seal, by someone in the Port of Hamburg.

The EU Drug Markets Report found that Rotterdam was the main point of entry for drug smugglers, but that Hamburg was handling increasing traffic.

A UN report released on Friday found that coca production in Colombia had surged to its highest level in 20 years. As the recent arrest of a massive drug king-pin showed, cocaine is often produced in Colombia and shipped out of the continent from countries such as Uruguay.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the street price of a gram of cocaine was typically $81 (70 euros) a gram in 2015 and had a purity of about 69 percent.

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