HomeNewsBriefVenezuela Soldiers Arrested For 'Biggest Ever' French Drug Bust
BRIEF

Venezuela Soldiers Arrested For 'Biggest Ever' French Drug Bust

CARTEL DE LOS SOLES / 23 SEP 2013 BY MIRIAM WELLS EN

Venezuela has arrested three National Guard members after more than a ton of cocaine was discovered on an Air France flight traveling from Caracas to Paris, evidence that the military is still involved in major drug trafficking.

The 1.3 tons of cocaine were found in 30 suitcases on a flight which arrived in Paris from Caracas on September 10, reported France 24 -- the largest drug bust in France's history, according to French Interior Minister Manuel Valls.

Venezuelan intelligence agents arrested two National Guard sergeants and a first lieutenant from the body's anti-drug unit, Interior and Justice Minister Miguel Rodriguez said on state television. More arrests were expected, with airline employees thought to be involved, reported the Associated Press. Authorities in Paris arrested six people, three Italian and three British, reported Reuters.

The drugs had an estimated value of $67.5 million, said Valls, while police said the shipment had a street value of as much as $270 million.

InSight Crime Analysis

Given that Caracas' Simon Bolivar International Airport is closely controlled by the military, this drug bust is clear evidence that elements of Venezuela's military are still involved in major drug trafficking operations. Such a massive amount of drugs piled onto a commercial flight indicates the military has carte blanche to do whatever it wants, and raises the question of how those involved were planning to get this shipment out of Charles de Gaulle airport unnoticed.

While members of Venezuela's military had for years facilitated the drug trade, in the mid-2000s they began to take a more active role and to actually transport and sell drugs themselves. The name Cartel of the Suns (Cartel de los Soles) has been given to groups within the army, air force and navy involved in drug trafficking, though there is not thought to be any hierarchical structure between the cells.

SEE ALSO: Cartel de los Soles Profile

Venezuelan drug kingpin Walid Makled, arrested in 2010, has made repeated claims about working with dozens of high-ranking members of the military. Last year, a leader of Mexico's Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) said his organization had worked with Venezuelan generals to send tons of drugs on flights from the Venezuelan border city of Maracaibo to the central Mexican city of Toluca.

Venezuela is a major departure point for drugs travelling from South America to Europe, but it is unusual that France was being used as a bridge, as Spain is typically the arrival point.

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