Anti-drug agents crack pet ruse of the drugs cartel

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IT LOOKS exactly like an ordinary, innocent dog kennel, the kind you can buy for pounds 75 in a pet shop. But it represents the latest technological breakthrough in the murky, multi-billion dollar world of drug-running. For it is made out of cocaine, and is worth pounds 300,000 on the street.

Federal narcotics agents in the United States have uncovered evidence that Colombian drug traffickers have developed a method of building glass fibre and plastic products which are infused with cocaine, and can be moulded into any shape.

This allows drug-runners, who each year smuggle hundreds of tons of cocaine into the US, to transport the drug disguised as a multitude of different kinds of product. They simply have to build, for example, a consignment of cocaine-infused plastic toys or car accessories, and ship it to a US port for a small transport fee.

Acting on a tip-off, the FBI has seized three dog kennels which were shipped from Cali - home of one of the largest Colombian cartels - to Los Angeles. They were almost exact replicas of kennels already on the US market. The agency believes that the drug- runners constructed them by mixing together cocaine paste, glass fibre and several other substances to form a malleable material which eventually hardens.

This can be ground into a dust and treated with chemicals to remove all the ingredients apart from crack cocaine. After grinding up the kennels, more than 17 kilos of cocaine were retrieved - a haul with a street value of dollars 1.5m ( pounds 970,000). 'The drug cartels have reached an all-time high in terms of technology,' said John Hoos, an FBI spokesman.

Cocaine embedded in glass fibre or plastic was undetectable by drug-sniffing dogs. But the US authorities say that this case has enabled them to develop an effective test. They have passed this to law enforcement agencies world-wide, including Britain, with warnings about the traffickers' ruse.

However, despite its detectability, it is a big problem in the unending war against drugs because of the huge number of plastic products in existence. 'If anything is made out of plastic or fibreglass, I'm a little suspicious,' said Charlie Parsons, special agent in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles office, 'If it's made in Colombia, I'm a little more suspicious.'

The FBI, which discovered the kennels after an informant's tip- off, has arrested two men whom they accuse of being part of the drug-smuggling operation.