25 arrested for running cocaine lab in Spain


Madrid : Spanish police dismantled the largest known cocaine laboratory in Europe near Madrid in an operation that resulted in 25 arrests.

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The illegal lab had been set up on a farm in the Madrid municipality of Villanueva de Perales, where police found more than 300 kg of cocaine and 33 tonnes of chemical products used in processing coca paste into the refined drug.

The coca paste was brought into Spain by sea in containers hidden among cargos of coffee.

Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba called the police operation “very important” and said it reveals the new face of organised crime in Spain.

“A very powerful group, with lawyers, very well organised, technologically sophisticated”, is how the minister described the criminal network.

In the home at Villanueva de Perales, the paste was processed into cocaine, then vacuum-packed and stamped with the organisation’s seal, which was a picture of a key.

At a press conference at which he announced the operation, police superintendent Jesus Pacheco said that at the outfit’s safe houses officers found more than 2 million euros ($2.6 million) in cash, firearms, luxury vehicles and more than 470 cellphones.

In addition, judicial authorities froze assorted financial and other assets valued at 50 million euros ($65 million).

Pacheco said the group was headed by a Spanish couple and two Colombian brothers who, in turn, worked in cooperation with Madrid night-club owner Lauro Sanchez, who was in charge of distributing the drug at his places of business and through other contacts.

Also working with the criminal group was a Madrid law office, where the attorneys focused on looking for ways to launder the profits coming from the drug sales.

Two lawyers and several staff members at the law firm were also arrested.

The superintendent of the counternarcotics unit, Francisco Miguelanez, said that in his 20 years of fighting drug trafficking he had never seen a cocaine lab of this magnitude and with such a level of sophistication.

The gang had decided to go from selling finished cocaine to buying the coca paste itself in South America and then processing it in Madrid, something that made them greater profits.

Around the laboratory, which was located in an isolated house in the country, the group had set up a real fortress, with guard dogs and directional microphones to detect any movement in the surrounding area.

“They were really paranoid about security,” said Miguelanez, who added that the leaders of the network had heavily armed personal bodyguards with large machetes and Russian-made semi-automatic pistols that had not yet been seen among organised criminal organisations in Spain.