Wholesale cocaine prices hit record levels

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The Independent Online

Wholesale cocaine prices have reached record levels despite a huge drop in seizures of the drug, police said today.

Officials at the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca) said they are tackling the manufacture and transportation of cocaine before it reaches Britain.

They said the availability and purity of the drug has been knocked back by a crackdown on favoured smuggling routes through west Africa.

The move, in which illicit remote landing strips have been shut down, has driven smugglers into the hands of other organisations.

Meanwhile colleagues in Colombia and Venezuela dismantled several laboratories producing up to one tonne of cocaine a month.

In Britain, investigators continue to clamp down on illicit businesses supplying cutting agents used by drug dealers to maximise profits.

Soca officials identified around 150 suspected criminal operations linked to the chemicals and passed the information to local forces.

Bill Hughes, outgoing Soca director general, said the agency is having a "real impact" on the supply of Class A drugs like cocaine.

The agency's annual report revealed cocaine seizures fell by more than half from 85.1 tonnes in 2008/9 to 33.5 tonnes last year.

The quantity of heroin and cannabis seized rose slightly, while opium rocketed from 7.3 tonnes in 2008/9 to 36.9 tonnes last year.

The report said: "Overall, the effects on the UK cocaine market reported last year, where changes in price and purity demonstrated a shortage of high-quality cocaine, were sustained this year.

"Consistent shortages of high-quality cocaine were seen throughout the UK, and in other significant consumer markets.

"This forced prices of wholesale cocaine up, particularly in the UK, where it reached the highest ever recorded levels."

Officials said they are also enjoying success in tackling the flow of heroin from Afghanistan which is responsible for 90% of the supply.

They work closely with colleagues in Turkey, the main smuggling route, to intercept and disrupt traffickers.

Police are also targeting supplies of a chemical used to transform morphine into heroin while disrupting drug barons by seizing their cash and assets.