Uprooted tree leads Dutch police to major cocaine lab

The Hague (AFP) –


A tree uprooted during a storm in the Netherlands has led to the discovery of one of the largest cocaine laboratories in the country, police said on Thursday.

Clean-up workers were removing the tree after the storm early Thursday when they noticed a chemical smell and "suspicious" men walking about a nearby farmer's shed in the southern Dutch village of Oud-Vossenmeer.

"Police were called and agents discovered the laboratory in the shed," a police statement said, adding it was "one of the largest discovered to date in the country."

Police declined to say how much cocaine was found, but admitted taking the laboratory apart will take "several days."

No arrests were made, with the suspects having fled.

Record quantities of increasingly pure cocaine are being seized by European authorities, the EU drugs agency said in a report published on Thursday.

EU member states seized 140 tonnes of cocaine in 2017, the highest level ever recorded, with an average street price of 55 to 82 euros ($62-92) per gram in the EU, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said.

The purity of cocaine at street level reached its highest level in a decade in 2017, while its retail price has remained stable.

Belgium accounted for the highest proportion of cocaine seizures with 45 tonnes, followed by Spain with 41 tonnes.

An increase in trafficking via shipping containers is a "major challenge", the report said.