Chile Seafood Cocaine Bust Highlights Alternative Routes to Europe

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French officials found cocaine packed in seafood containers on a ship traveling from Chile, pointing to a lesser-known drug trafficking route from South America to Europe.

The 21.6 kilograms of cocaine were discovered packed in a container of frozen mussels in the port of Le Havre, in northern France, according to French Customs.

According to customs officials, neither the sender nor the recipient knew the shipping container had cocaine in it. The customs seal on the container had been replaced after the drugs were placed inside, the AFP news service reported.

French Customs officials, according to the AFP report, say this is an increasingly common tactic for traffickers. Last June, officials said, this method was used to attempt to smuggle some 113 kilos of cocaine from Ecuador, packed in a container of cans of tuna.

InSight Crime Analysis

Chile seems an unlikely route for traffickers seeking to reach the European market, as it has no access to the Atlantic ocean. And while such drug smuggling schemes could probably only be carried out with the complicity of corrupt customs officials, Chile actually has one of the lowest corruption rates in Latin America. According to a 2010 survey by Transparency International, an anti-corruption NGO, Chile scores a 7.2 out of ten in its perception of corruption index, the best score in South America.

A more likely choice would be Venezuela, which according to UN estimates is a waypoint for 40 percent of the cocaine entering Europe, with a 2.0 score from Transparency International, the worst ranking on the continent.

Still, there are good reasons to use Chile as a waypoint for a smuggling scheme. The country borders top cocaine producers Bolivia and Peru, and its high level of domestic consumption ensures an ample supply of cocaine for traffickers seeking to profit by smuggling it to Europe.

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