UK Seizes £120 million in Cocaine Hidden Within 800 Sacks of Charcoal

In a testament to drug traffickers’ creativity in finding ways to smuggle their product across borders, U.K. Border Force officers seized more than £120 million (US$153.4 million) in cocaine, this time fused within enough charcoal to fill 800 sacks.

NCA Cocaine in coalDrug traffickers can be resourceful in smuggling their product across borders, be it in rotting cow hides or in 800 sacks of charcoal. (Photo: NCA, License)The drugs are linked to a suspected organized crime group that has, to date, imported roughly 1.6 tonnes of cocaine into the U.K.

According to the country’s National Crime Agency (NCA), this is the first time authorities have intercepted narcotics chemically bound with charcoal. The sophisticated process needed to bind the two together means that the traffickers could only extract the cocaine in a laboratory setting, investigators said.

Despite the charcoal’s innocuous appearance, which the traffickers had hoped would deter attention from customs, x-ray scanners and police sniffer dogs can still detect the drugs within.

Drug smugglers frequently conjure up new ways to surreptitiously move their product across borders.

Just last month, Australian authorities seized 668 kilograms of crystal meth concealed within the folds of rotting cow hides. In a separate operation, Canadian border agents seized over a billion dollars worth of liquid methamphetamine, hidden in bottles of canola oil.

And Spanish police dismantled a crime group last year that tried to pass off 22 tonnes of Colombian cocaine as large-quantity shipments of sugar.

In the charcoal case, the £120 million drug load, shipped from Panama and disguised as 800 sacks of lightweight black carbon, was seized by border officers at the London Gateway port.

“This operation has prevented a huge amount of cocaine from making it onto the streets,where it would have generated criminal profit and fuelled further violence and exploitation,” said NCA Regional Head of Operations Jacque Beer.

Police also made two arrests following the seizure.

The NCA did not immediately respond to comment when asked if the suspects are members of a larger drug trafficking organization, or if they were working as intermediaries.