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Russia-bound containers with bananas from Ecuador found to carry 3.5 tonnes of cocaine with a street value of half a billion euros

The Estonian Tax and Customs Board (MTA) in cooperation with the Dutch police, the Finnish customs, and Europol have seized 3.5 tonnes of a narcotic substance in Muuga, Estonia’s largest seaport. The express test showed a positive result for cocaine, states the Board's website.

The batch of drugs was detected on March 21 on the Milan Express, which had left Rotterdam on March 5. Most of the containers were destined for Russia. The Anti-Drug Unit of the MTA’s Investigation Department is carrying out a pre-trial investigation, while the Estonian Office of the Prosecutor General is overseeing procedural matters.

On paper, the refrigerated containers were carrying bananas from Ecuador, but the inspection revealed 72 black bags with film-wrapped and taped packs of pressed white powder. As the MTA points out, this is one of the largest batches of cocaine to be seized in the Baltics and Northern Europe, with a retail value of around half a billion euros.

According to Raul Koppelmaa, head of the Anti-Drug Unit of the MTA’s Investigation Department, such a large amount could not have been meant for the Estonian market. Public Prosecutor Raigo Aas notes, in turn, that most drugs smuggled from South America are unloaded at major European seaports. “The vast majority of cocaine arriving at major ports is loaded into vehicles and transported in smaller quantities across Europe. Based on our experience and the initial procedural steps, we can conclude that criminals failed to pick up the substance in any of these major European ports. Such a large batch of drugs was not intended for Estonia’s domestic market,” he explained.

It became known in January 2022 that defendants in the case of smuggling Argentinian cocaine to Moscow got prison sentences of 13 to 18 years in a maximum-security penal colony. The primary defendant, businessman Andrey Kovalchuk was sentenced to 18 years and a 1.8-million-ruble fine, logistics manager Ali Abyanov to 17 years and a 1.6-million-ruble fine, Vladimir Kalmykov to 16 years and a one-million-ruble fine, and Ishtimir Hudzhamov to 13 years and a 900,000-ruble fine.

The Russian police conducted a joint investigation with their Argentinian counterparts for over a year. Andrey Kovalchuk pleaded innocent, asserting that the cocaine wasn't his. The Dossier Center published a long-read on cocaine traffic to Russian via Moscow's embassy in Argentina, challenging the official findings of the investigation, which had eventually exonerated Russian diplomats and officials.

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