FEDS BUST NARCOTICS TRANSPORTATION RING
Anti-drug smuggling units of the U.S. government announced the conclusion of a two-year, multi-country investigation to dismantle the operations of a large narcotics transportation network.
“Operation Journey” involved the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Customs and the Joint Interagency Task Force-East, representing law enforcement agencies and military units in 12 countries.
U.S. Customs said the target was a “one-stop shipping service” for Colombian cartels moving cocaine on cargo vessels to Europe and North America. The operation, based in Venezuela and Colombia, included eight to 10 ocean freighters. Some of these vessels were owned by shipping firms in Greece.
The cocaine was generally transported from Columbia via land or air to the Orinoco River Delta on Venezuela’s northeast coast. It was hidden until high-speed boats delivered it to vessels waiting offshore, where it was stowed in false compartments or cargo. The same process was reversed when receiving the drugs in European and North American ports.
U.S. Customs said that the Columbian drug smugglers also conducted “dry runs” by carrying only legitimate cargo on the ships to try to hide from authorities. They also used sophisticated communications to prevent detection.
The transportation network’s alleged leader, Ivan De La Vega, was arrested on Aug. 16 in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and turned over to U.S. custody to face federal charges in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Over 40 individuals connected with the network were also arrested.
The transportation network could have moved more than 68 tons of cocaine over a three-year period, generating about $3 billion on the streets in Europe, authorities said.