They have been found hidden in an artificial leg, the brake fluid of a lorry, avocados in a warehouse, tins of sardines and even inside the body of a pet dog. The inventiveness of traffickers when looking for ways to hide their drugs constantly tests those whose mission it is to find them: the State security forces.
If there is one recurring factor, though, it is food. That became clear several months ago with 'Operación Bananero', the biggest haul of cocaine in the history of Malaga and the second biggest in Spain and Europe. More than 6,300 kilos of white powder, which once cut and adulterated would have sold for more than one billion euros on the black market, were camouflaged among tons of bananas. Yes: bananas. Which raises the question, why do the traffickers choose to hide their drugs among fruit, fish or frozen foods?
The answer from an officer experienced in the fight against drug trafficking is logical: "Because it is not an easy decision for sanitary reasons and the cold chain, to open the containers. Just think, if you're wrong and the cargo goes bad, you run the risk of legal action and a demand for compensation".
The organisation behind the massive haul of cocaine discovered in Malaga used that strategy, although with a twist. They had designed a business structure which imported such a volume of merchandise that it gave it the appearance of legality. In fact, the 6,300 kilos of cocaine entered Spain via Portugal in 70 containers of bananas. In other words, it was like looking for like a needle in a haystack.
The following are just some of the operations uncovered in Malaga which demonstrate the preferred methods used by traffickers to hide their drugs.
A haul of 990 kilos from the biggest cocaine trafficker in North Africa
He started with hashish, but soon moved on to the cocaine business, using an ingenious method to hide the drug: in cylinders covered in a type of yellow wax, hidden among pineapples. That made it extremely difficult to detect, because it meant checking thousands of pieces of fruit to find the drugs. However, in December 2017 an investigation by the National Police and the Tax Agency resulted in one of these cargos being intercepted, and the arrest of the man believed responsible: a 72-year-old who was considered the biggest cocaine trafficker in North Africa. Although Moroccan, he was arrested in Malaga, which is where he ran his businesses. In total, officers intercepted 990 kilos of the drug. s.
Tofu and hazelnut cream
Refrigerated lorries to transport frozen food
Last August, the National Police carried out an important operation against a band of Dutch traffickers who were bringing cocaine into the country in containers of frozen food. They wrapped the drug really well and then submerged it in containers of hazelnut cream and tofu, which were then frozen and transported in refrigerated lorries together with other products such as prawn crackers and Chinese rice which did not contain drugs. This was a very detailed method, to the point that in order to lay a false trail, the traffickers falsified a well-known brand of fast food which is very popular in Holland, which is where the drugs were being taken. As a result of the police operation 550 kilos of cocaine were seized, but it also served to inform them about a previously unseen and very unusual method of transporting the drugs.
A method to confuse the sniffer dogs
The Guardia Civil called it 'Operación Caribe'. In 2015, they discovered a method used by an organisation of Spanish and Italian traffickers, the latter believed to have links with the Camorra of Naples, to bring hashish into Spain and then transport it to Italy. The network was based in Almogía, in Malaga province, where the police had to roll up their sleeves and set to work to find the 1,200 kilos of hashish which the group had hidden among tons of onions. By using this method, they had hoped to fool any sniffer dogs which were used to check for the presence of drugs in the lorry, by masking the scent of the hashish with the smell of the onions.
Hashish hidden among boxes of fish before freezing
On this occasion, the product chosen by the drug traffickers came from the sea. In 2013, the National Police in Malaga broke up an organisation which was bringing hashish into the country, hidden among sardines. The drug was camouflaged inside the boxes of fish before being frozen in Morocco, making a compact block between the sardines and the drugs, which made it difficult for Customs to detect. However, the authorities discovered the system and confiscated around 900 kilos of the drug.
Bananas (made of plastic)
Pieces of hollow fruit filled with cocaine
It was not the first time, nor the last, that an organisation hid cocaine in a container of bananas, but it was the first time that the drugs were hidden in hollow fruit made of plastic. In an attempt to fool the police checks, the traffickers filled the fake bananas with the cocaine and spread them out among real pieces of fruit in boxes in different pallets. The police discovered this trick in 2011, arrested those responsible and confiscated a cargo of 162 kilos of cocaine which had come from Ecuador.
More than 2,000 kilos of hashish among tons of chard
This time, the drugs were travelling in another lorry full of chard. Twelve tons of the vegetable were used by an organisation to hide 2,200 kilos of hashish travelling from Malaga to France. The Guardia Civil intercepted the lorry in 2016 and detained the leader of the group, who were hiding their drugs among vegetables in refrigerated lorries. Thanks to the leader's knowledge of the transport sector, he used to choose the time when large numbers of lorries carrying this type of product were crossing the border, in the hope that the checks would not be very stringent.
Marihuana hidden in a lorry heading for Ireland
It was all apparently innocuous. A lorry loaded with more than 20 tons of lettuce, packed into boxes, left Alhaurín de la Torre and set off for Ireland. However, Guardia Civil and National Police officers had information from the Irish Garda Siochana, warning that a network of Irish citizens who were living in Malaga were exporting something which wasn't exactly a salad vegetable. When the lorry was intercepted, the officers found 170 kilos of marihuana hidden among the lettuces.