Global alert for undetectable black cocaine

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The Independent Online
COLOMBIAN DRUG smugglers have tried most tricks to get their product out of the country. They have mixed it into coffee sacks, dissolved it in bottles of whisky and shampoo, paid couriers to swallow it in plastic bags for later excretion, even encouraged women to hide it in their private parts.

Now, Colombian police are faced with a new smuggling gambit, the use of "coca negra", or black cocaine. Typically, the mixture is made up of pure cocaine (40 per cent) with cobalt and ferric chloride, which is said to make the lucrative drug undetectable even by highly trained sniffer dogs.

Colombian police seized their first shipment of black cocaine last May - more than 250lb in two containers, bound for Italy from El Dorado airport in Bogota. Documented as bubble-jet printer cartridges, the containers passed the police dogs unnoticed and the drugs were uncovered only because police were already suspicious of the Colombian exporters.

Black cocaine is transformed back to the familiar white powder by being passed through solvents such as acetone or ether. It has recently been found in police raids in Germany, the Netherlands and Albania, all in packages originating from the same exporters, a Colombian police spokesman said.

Klaus Nyholm, the director of the United Nations drug control programme in Colombia, said his office had alerted the country's police a few months earlier to watch out for the black cocaine after UN officials in Asia found heroin smugglers using a similar technique.

"We had heard reports of it but I never really thought black cocaine existed," Colombia's police chief, Roso Jose Serrano, said. "What this shows is that, for good or bad, Colombians have a boundless imagination."

The Brussels-based Customs Co-operation Council put out an alert for black cocaine to member countries several months ago and, although the shipments seem to pass by the sniffer dogs, customs agents are confident that the latest ruse is just a temporary advantage by the smugglers.

"Stopping drugs is also about intelligence work and risk assessment," said Douglas Tweddle, head of enforcement at the council. "And dogs are of limited use anyway because their noses get saturated quickly. What this shows is how innovative the drug smugglers are, but we have already alerted our network and hope to prevent it becoming a problem."