Coke courier | 

Irishman arrested in Zurich after police find 15 kilograms of cocaine in his luggage

He had travelled from Sao Paulo to Zurich and intended to fly on to Dublin via Frankfurt when he was caught

Brazil has now become one of the top suppliers of cocaine to Europe (Stock photo)

Neil Fetherstonhaugh

A 33-year-old Irishman has been arrested in Zurich Airport after police discovered 15 kilograms of cocaine in his luggage.

The Irish national had arrived from Sao Paulo on Monday and had intended to continue his journey to Dublin when he was stopped on Tuesday afternoon.

The suspect was arrested and handed over to the public prosecutor, the Zurich cantonal police said on Wednesday.

“A narcotics courier was arrested at Zurich Airport and around 15 kilograms of cocaine were seized,” police said.

“On Tuesday, a 33-year-old Irishman travelled from Sao Paulo to Zurich and intended to fly on to Dublin via Frankfurt.

When checking his luggage, the police seized around 15 kilograms of cocaine.

The man was arrested and, after being questioned by the police, taken to the public prosecutor's office in Winterthur/Unterland.

In recent years Brazil's local gangs have emerged as major drug exporters and have been flooding Europe with cocaine.

One veteran customs inspector, Oswaldo Dias, told how in less than a decade, he had watched them rise from domestic street sellers to major international players.

“Europe is the destination par excellence,” Dias, who has retired from Brazil’s Federal Revenue Service, told an interviewer.

Brazil has now become one of the top suppliers of cocaine to Europe, transforming the country’s role in the trans-Atlantic drug trade at a rate that has caught anti-narcotics authorities off-guard.

In one report published previously it revealed how Brazil, long regarded as a cocaine-consuming nation, had turned into a critical launch pad to get it across the Atlantic.

“Local syndicates have infiltrated Brazil’s ports, authorities said, sending record amounts of coke on container ships bound for Europe, where it fetches premium prices,” an article published by Reuters revealed.

Rotterdam customs released images of a massive coke haul worth more than €8million made recently

Brazilian gangs are now integral players feeding Europe’s cocaine market, valued at more than 9 billion euros ($10.15 billion), according to a Reuters analysis of customs data on cocaine seizures, confidential intelligence reports and research studies on illegal drugs.

According to Laurent Laniel, a senior analyst at the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), the Lisbon-based EU drugs agency, Brazil has emerged as a major exporter nation for cocaine.

“This is definitely something that is new,” he added.

Across the Brazilian and Peruvian shared border in the remote Amazon, there has been an explosion of cultivation and processing of coca, the plant used to produce cocaine in recent years.

“It’s out of control,” Brazilian Federal Police Officer Antônio Salgado. “You go up in the helicopter and within two minutes you start seeing plantations here, there, everywhere.”

Reuters also reported from Paraguay, whose law enforcement has proven to be no match for Brazilian gangs using the country as a way station to move the product into Brazil.

Every link of this vast supply chain underscored Brazil’s new status as a leading trans-shipment hub for coke to Europe, the world’s second-largest economic bloc.

Belgium in particular has become the top gateway for South American cocaine entering Europe, almost entirely via the port of Antwerp.

In 2019, authorities apprehended a record of nearly 62 tonnes of cocaine at Europe’s second-largest port.

The single-largest share of that - 15.9 tonnes, about a quarter of the total - came from ships arriving from Brazil, official Belgian data shows. In 2015, Belgian customs seized just 293 kilograms (646 pounds) coming in from Brazil.

Five years ago, Brazil did not rank among the major embarkation points for cargo ships caught bringing cocaine into Spain. The top five slots belonged to Colombia, Venezuela, Portugal, Ecuador and Chile, according to data provided to Reuters last year by Spanish customs.

Brazil took the number one spot in 2016 and again in 2018, when law enforcement seized a record 4.3 tonnes from ships arriving from Brazilian ports, figures show.

Brazil was also the top point of origin for cocaine apprehended entering Germany in 2018, with a historic capture of nearly 2.1 tonnes, according to the most recent German customs data.

Europe is “swimming in drugs,” and Brazil plays an increasingly crucial role in getting them there, said Andrew Cunningham, another expert at EMCDDA, the EU drugs agency. “There’s absolutely no doubt about it,” he said.

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