Drug runners tried to take advantage of the coronavirus crisis by trying to sneak 14 kilos of cocaine into the UK using face masks.
The £1 million stash was discovered after a Polish-registered van was stopped at Coquelles on the French side of the Channel Tunnel on Tuesday. Boxes full of personal protective equipment (PPE) were seized from the vehicle and inspected by UK Border Force officers.
They found 15 packages of the Class-A drug hidden among the face masks before the 34-year-old driver from Poland was arrested and taken into custody for questioning. Now regulators are inspecting the masks to see if they are still safe to use.
Border Force Regional Director for Coquelles Ian Hanson said: ‘This seizure shows the lengths drug smugglers will go to. It is despicable to think they would try and exploit the current situation in this way to get their dangerous drugs on to the UK’s streets.
‘It is testament to the expertise of my Border Force officers that this smuggling attempt was prevented and shows we remain active on the frontline in keeping the country safe from illegal drugs and the harm they cause.
‘Every year Border Force officers seize Class A drugs worth hundreds of millions of pounds. Working with law enforcement colleagues like the National Crime Agency (NCA) we are determined to prevent drug trafficking.’
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NCA Dover branch operations manager Darren Herbert added: ‘This seizure is further evidence of the way criminal networks are attempting to exploit the coronavirus outbreak to their own ends, covering this load of drugs with what would seem like vital protective equipment.
‘We are now investigating who was behind this attempt, but what is clear is that they have taken a substantial hit. At UK street prices this haul might have raised more than £1 million once adulterated and cut down – profit that they have now been denied.’
Later that evening, cocaine worth more than £2 million was taken off the streets as part of a separate proactive drugs and money laundering operation led by the National Crime Agency and Metropolitan Police Service.
Investigators from the Organised Crime Partnership arrested arrest two men aged 32 and 29 on suspicion of class A drug supply offences in Gravesend, Kent, after seizing 20 kilos of cocaine from a van.
A third man who fled the location is now wanted in connection with the investigation.
Officers executed a search warrant at an address in the same street, where a further four kilos of cocaine was found and a 32 year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of supplying drugs.
Further searches of a second Gravesend property led to approximately £300,000 in cash being recovered.
A 51-year-old man and a woman aged 50 were also arrested on suspicion of money laundering offences.
All those detained are now in custody and are being question by NCA and Met Police officers.
NCA head of specialist operations John Coles said: ‘Taking this amount of class A drugs off the streets is a significant result for the OCP as we know cocaine fuels gang violence and exploitation.
‘Seizing drugs and cash has a major impact on the wider organised crime groups that are involved in drug distribution, and prevents them from investing profits in further offending.’
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