An international operation led by Spanish authorities has arrested 18 members of a drug gang in Spain, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, and Colombia that allegedly smuggled cocaine by embedding it in cardboard.
Per the Guardian, cops say the investigation was focused on a criminal going by the moniker “the Surgeon” (identified by the Local ES as Mauricio Vergara) who they allege was using his clinic as a front for drug negotiations. The operation involved the smuggling of cocaine by infusing cardboard boxes used to ship limes and pineapples from Colombia to Europe with small amounts of cocaine, which then had to be extracted by chemists, according to the police. It also allegedly involved the Los Castaña drug gang, which operates on Spain’s southern coast and whose kingpin Francisco Tejón was arrested in 2018. Police told the Guardian they had been clued into an adulterated shipment of over 5,000 boxes of limes and over 1,600 boxes of pineapples earlier this year.
“Small quantities of the drug – never more than 100g – were placed in each box and later extracted by complicated chemical processes in the gang’s own laboratories,” Spanish authorities said, according to the Guardian. “The gang’s chemists were then sent from Colombia to Spain, where they stayed until they were dispatched to Bulgaria and the Netherlands, where they set about extracting the cocaine. Once their job was done, they returned to Spain and then to Colombia.”
“Using international police cooperation mechanisms, Bulgarian police and prosecutors then tracked the shipment to a warehouse in Sofia where the legal and illegal imports were due to be separated, with the contaminated cardboard bound for the purpose-built lab,” police added.
A video posted by Spain’s National Police showed what appeared to be machinery used to mulch the cardboard into a fibrous mass for pressing and subsequent extraction of the cocaine.
Former soccer player Edwin Congo, who retired from the sport at the age of 33 in 2009, was among those arrested. He was released after questioning, according to the Local, and insisted that his only involvement with the gang was the emerald trade.
“I am innocent, I have absolutely nothing to do with the sale, manufacture or anything that has to do with cocaine,” Congo told Spanish TV station La Sexta on Tuesday evening, the Local wrote.