Three Britons are among nine people who have been arrested after 1.3 tons of cocaine were found stashed inside suitcases bound from Venezuela to France.
The drugs, discovered inside 30 suitcases on an Air France flight bound from Caracas to Paris, form the biggest seizure of cocaine ever recorded on French soil.
Authorities in Venezuela have arrested three security officials for their alleged involvement in the haul, valued at as much as €200m (£170m).
The British trio were detained in Paris alongside three Italians. A Foreign Office spokeswoman said on Monday night: “We are aware of the arrest of three British Nationals in France and stand ready to offer consular assistance.”
Air France has ordered an investigation after Venezuela’s justice and interior minister, Miguel Rodriguez, said it was highly likely the smugglers had accomplices within the airline.
All of the colourful suitcases containing the drugs, which were checked in for the Caracas to Paris Air France flight, were registered to fictitious passengers.
The arrests came after weeks of investigation by British, French and Italian officers. But testimonies differ over the exact timing of the discovery.
According to Reuters, French authorities said the drugs were found earlier this month but details of the raid were released only over the weekend. Venezuelan authorities, however, said the drugs were seized on 20 September.
Public prosecutors in Venezuela will charge three security officials for “allegedly committing crimes established by Venezuelan law”, the prosecutor’s office said.
For more than a decade the United States has accused Venezuela of turning a blind eye to drug smuggling, and has described several high-ranking military officials and ruling party allies as drug “kingpins”.
Venezuela is not a cocaine-producing country but is becoming a trafficking hub.
Experts believe Venezuela’s location on South America’s Caribbean and Atlantic seaboards makes it a preferred route for planes and ships carrying Colombian cocaine to the United States and Europe via Central America and Africa.
Earlier this month a White House annual report said that Venezuela, along with Bolivia and Myanmar, had not made substantial efforts during the last 12 months to meet its obligations under global counter-narcotics agreements.
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