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Venezuela arrests soldiers over Air France cocaine haul

Photo: AFP

Two Venezuelan National Guard sergeants and one lieutenant were arrested on Sunday for their alleged involvement in the smuggling of 1.3 tonnes of cocaine, valued at 200 million euros, on an Air France passenger flight from Caracas to Paris.

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Three members of Venezuela's security forces were arrested in connection with the 1.3 tonnes of cocaine French police found aboard an Air France flight that originated in Caracas, a top cabinet minister said Sunday.

Intelligence agents "have detained a first lieutenant from the anti-drug unit of the Bolivarian National Guard" along with two National Guard sergeants, Justice and Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez told state network VTV. He said that further arrests were expected.

French officials had announced on Saturday the discovery of the narcotics, hidden in 30 suitcases on an Air France flight from Venezuela’s capital Caracas to Paris. The flight had arrived in Paris on September 10.

Police and legal sources said that the cocaine had a street value of some 200 million euros ($270 million).

Accomplices

According to Rodriguez, it was "almost obvious" that there were accomplices working with the airline.

"How can the cocaine shipment reach France and it gets taken out without going through the normal controls?" he asked.

The suitcases carrying the cocaine were registered under false names that did not correspond to passengers on the flight to Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, police said.

Air France said it was still trying to find out how the drugs were smuggled on board.

“Pending the results of these investigations, immediate measures have been taken to enhance our checks of baggage and goods on departure from certain sensitive destinations,” the airline said in a statement.

Over the coming days, agents will scrutinise footage taken from security cameras at the Simon Bolivar International Airport and interrogate personnel that work in the airport luggage area, he said.

Rodriguez said that he has assigned a special team of prosecutors to the probe.

Record haul

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls, who announced the haul on Saturday as “the biggest seizure of cocaine ever made in mainland France”, told reporters that "several members of a criminal organisation" had been arrested on Monday.

Police said that at least six people of several European nationalities were being held in relation to the case.

The seizure was the result of cooperation between security forces in France, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, Valls said.

Cocaine comes from coca leaves grown in countries like Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Venezuela does not produce cocaine, according to United Nations monitors, but has become a major transit point for US -and European-destined cocaine in recent years, with Washington accusing several senior Venezuelan military officials of involvement.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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