Police in France have seized over a ton of cocaine smuggled from Chile in a Dakar rally vehicle by an international ring apparently led by Bulgarians, in another sign that Eastern European crime is deepening its involvement in cocaine trafficking.
The 1.4 ton haul was discovered in spare tires on a Dakar rally support truck, which arrived by sea from the Chilean port of Valparaíso, reported La Tercera.
Police arrested two Spaniards in France and two Bulgarians in Bulgaria in connection with the shipment. Police said an international network was behind the operation, and that the Bulgarians were the organizers, reported La Segunda.
InSight Crime Analysis
Chile has a reputation as one of the Latin American countries least affected by the drug trade, with some of the region's lowest indices of violence and corruption.
However, it shares a border with two of the top three cocaine producing countries -- Peru and Bolivia -- and also has one of the region's highest cocaine consumption rates, meaning it is all but inevitable that cocaine corridors into Chile are opening up. Most of the cocaine that transits through Chile is moved on to Europe, and in the past several tons have been discovered in European ports on ships coming from Chile. This is also not the first time a Chile-France connection has been exposed.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Chile
The ring behind this latest shipment appears to be an international coalition of drug traffickers, and as the cocaine was probably sourced from Peru or Bolivia it may not have involved more recognized major Latin American criminal organizations from the likes of Mexico or Colombia.
The fact that the network appears to be led by Bulgarians supports the claims of European police force Europol in its 2013 drug trade report (pdf) that an increasing number of criminals from Balkan countries are participating in the cocaine trade.
The report notes how European groups have established a greater presence in South America in recent years, and tend to work through broad international networks of traffickers. Bulgarian organized crime groups, it says, have become involved in large-scale cocaine imports in association with Spanish, Italian and Colombian criminal organizations.