A MALAGA customs chief was the ‘inside man’ in an audacious scheme that saw cocaine traffickers manning the port’s container inspections.
The head of the port’s Risk Analysis Unit was arrested in a smuggling operation that ‘controlled the port inspection scanner for a year and a half’ El Confidencial report.
The arrest, one of 13 made around Spain, marks a coup for law enforcement, who despite intercepting tonnes of cocaine each year, rarely nab the colluding port officials.
However, the saga raises very serious questions about Spanish border security, as it is unknown what else could have been smuggled into the country via such a gaping hole.
Almost two tonnes of cocaine worth €63 million were snaffled up during the sprawling investigation between Spain’s Customs Surveillance Service (SVA), Policia Nacional and Guardia Civil.
Detectives uncovered the complex scheme was led by a businessman who ran a frozen fish company based in Malaga after beginning the investigation in February 2023.
The first clue came from a 611kg find of cocaine hidden among a shipment of bananas in an industrial estate on the outskirts of Malaga in 2018.
The warehouse, which was owned by the frozen fish company, belonged to a businessman who had a longstanding relationship with port authorities.
Investigators were shocked to find that he had ‘generously’ supplied a scanning device used by port authorities to inspect suspicious containers.
Unbelievably, it was an employee of the frozen fish company that manned the scanner, providing the perfect opportunity to slip large quantities of cocaine among legitimate cargo, including a sizable seizure hidden within a banana shipment.
Many of the containers were kitted out with false ‘mirror bottom’ partitions where the drugs were hidden.
Containers suspected of potentially transporting cocaine would be transferred to a warehouse on the port belonging to the fish company.
But in the ‘spring of last year’ the scanner was moved to the dock side to carry out inspections with a cocaine trafficker employee appointed ‘customs representative.’
Further arrests took place in June with two new seizures of 25 and 381kg respectively among pineapple shipments, including the kingpin businessman and a courier.
In August, 805kg were uncovered in Santa Fe (Granada) which had come from Malaga port, this time behind a false partition, sometimes known as a ‘mirror bottom.’
Finally, five searches were carried out in Malaga capital, two in Torremolinos, one in Sierra de Yeguas and another in the Granada municipality of Guadix.
A majority of the arrests came from employees of the frozen fish company or their family members.
The final arrest was made on January 29 of this year.
The arrested customs chief, who oversaw the container inspections, was reportedly instrumental in bringing the drug shipments through the port.
Despite the success of the operation, sources indicated that the cocaine captured was just a tiny fraction of what had got through the net.
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