Investigators have reported the seizure of $2.8 billion worth of cocaine on container ships in three different ports State justice minister Benjamin Limbach speaks at a press briefing on Monday in Duesseldorf. © Roland Weihrauch/picture alliance via Getty Images

German law enforcement authorities have announced a record drug seizure, saying they intercepted €2.6 billion ($2.8 billion) worth of cocaine and arrested seven people who were allegedly involved in the smuggling operation.

Investigators seized a combined 35.5 metric tons of cocaine from container ships in Hamburg, Rotterdam, and Colombia, prosecutors in Dusseldorf said on Monday in a statement. The largest capture occurred in Hamburg, where police found 25 tons of the drug hidden in shipments of fruit and vegetables.

The cocaine cargoes were found last year after German police were tipped off by Colombian authorities. The drug bust was previously unreported. The seven smuggling suspects – including citizens of Ukraine, Germany, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Morocco and Turkey – were arrested in recent weeks.

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“Specifically, the suspects are accused of organizing the transport of 10 sea containers with large quantities of cocaine from Latin America to Europe in the period from April to September 2023 with other as-yet-unknown accomplices,” prosecutors said. Those alleged accomplices reside in Turkey.

The smuggling operation involved front companies that were allegedly set up to help make the shipments appear to be legitimate. A man in western Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state created 100 “letterbox” companies for the purpose, according to authorities.

The suspects, who range in age from 30 to 54, were not identified by name. They were arrested in seven different German states. “This is a blow to international organized criminality,” North Rhine-Westphalia Justice Minister Benjamin Limbach told reporters in Duesseldorf. “It’s a precise punch in the jaw that hurts the drug lords.”

The drug seizures were nearly three times the size of a €1 billion cocaine intercept at the port of Hamburg in 2019, then a record bust for Germany.

“The flood of cocaine into Europe is destroying people – and generating billions in profits for the cartels,” German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said on Friday. (RT)