Bolivia police have discovered cocaine chemically modified to be odorless and pliable in a shipment of musical instruments heading to Europe, in what appears a new development in smuggling techniques used to outsmart law enforcement.
Marco Ballon, director of Bolivia’s anti-narcotics police (FELCN) in the central department of Cochabamba, announced the capture of a criminal gang that had concealed cocaine in a mandolin, paintings, and indigenous musical instruments destined for export to Spain, reported La Razon. The cocaine, which had been treated using a "peculiar" chemical process, was "in a moist and very flexible state" that allowed it to be molded into various shapes, Ballon said.
According to Los Tiempos, the mandolin held 165 grams of cocaine in a hidden compartment, which Ballon said "was indiscernible because the sound of the instrument was perfect" and no odors were detectable.
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Three people were arrested in the investigation into the cocaine, and police suspect they may have also been involved in some form of scam, after finding bricks of baking soda likely intended to be passed off as cocaine to prospective buyers.
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While it is unclear if this "flexible" and "odorless" cocaine is entirely novel, its development suggests the drug smugglers had significant financial backing and the help of skilled scientists to successfully doctor the product in such a way.
Traffickers have shown considerable ingenuity in recent years, with another popular method of chemically altering cocaine to make its trafficking easier being by dissolving it into liquid. Such a method was uncovered in January in Bolivia, where drug mules swallowed small bags of liquid cocaine -- which can be carried in larger quantities and is much harder for x-ray equipment to detect -- in order to evade airport security.
Massive shipments of liquid cocaine have also been seized in the likes of Venezuela and Chile, while a recent case in Colombia saw three-tons of liquid cocaine mixed with motor oil and hidden in machinery. Liquid cocaine has also been frozen, as seen in 2013 when Peruvian authorities found almost four tons of frozen liquid cocaine in shipping containers.
As this recent case highlights, while authorities across the region have been successful in identifying new methods of doctoring and concealing the drug, trafficking organizations remain extremely adept at developing ever more sophisticated ways to evade them.