|British mafia the shadowy figures behind Air France suitcase cocaine haul
Officials believe the British and Italian mafia are behind the seizure of 1.3 tonnes of cocaine in suitcases (pictured) on an Air France flight.
Nine people are being held in France and Venezuela so far, police said.
Venezuela's justice and interior minister, Miguel Rodriguez, said Sunday that an officer from the anti-drug unit of the Bolivarian National Guard and two National Guard sergeants had been arrested, AFP reports.
“The information that we have is that the [alleged traffickers] belong to a mafia of British and Italian nationals, who buy drugs in South America and then distribute it in Europe,’’ Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez told a briefing.
Confirmation that six people were in custody in France followed Venezuela's announcement Sunday that three members of their security services had been detained on suspicion of involvement in smuggling that led to the biggest cocaine seizure ever on French soil.
The drugs with an estimated street value of 200 million euros were found inside 30 suitcases on a Caracas-Paris flight, according to French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who announced the seizure Saturday.
Rodriguez said it was highly likely the smugglers had accomplices within Air France working with them.
The six suspects come from two European countries, including Italy. The smuggling was most likely organized by the Ndrangheta, the Calabrian mafia said to be behind 80 percent of the cocaine trade in Europe.
Under special powers used for investigations involving organized crime, the suspects can be held for up to 96 hours without charge.
The record seizure followed an investigation lasting several weeks which also involved British, Dutch and Spanish police.
According to police sources, the drugs arrived in France on September 11 but were not seized until the 20th, the investigators apparently having allowed time to see who was picking them up.
Part of the haul was seized at the airport and some on a truck headed towards Luxembourg – a route which suggests the end destination could have been the Netherlands or Britain.
Aviation security expert Christophe Naudin said the smuggling had to be an Air France inside job to some extent, given how the suitcases appear to have been loaded onto the plane without going through the normal check-in procedures.