Law enforcement officers in Germany have discovered 384kgs of cocaine in a shipment of bananas, in what is thought to be the largest-ever seizure of the drug in the city of Cologne.
An employee at a wholesale company alerted authorities after finding suspicious packages in crates of the fruit that had been shipped into the country from Ecuador.
In a statement, police said they found hundreds of bags that each contained 1kg of cocaine hidden in 26 cases of bananas.
Tests carried out on the powder in the bags confirmed it was cocaine.
Police also said they found a GPS tracker inside one of the crates, which officers believe the traffickers behind the shipment intended to use to track down their drugs.
While no information was provided by police on the purity or estimated street value of the haul, the average cost of a gram of cocaine in Europe suggests it might have been worth up to €34 million if sold without being mixed with cutting agents.
Banana shipments are a popular cover for drug traffickers looking to get their products into Europe without being detected by customs officers. It was reported last month that police in Spain had discovered 17kgs of cocaine stuffed inside fake banana skins made of resin.
In 2015, a worker employed by UK supermarket Tesco found cocaine worth an estimated €707,000 while unboxing a shipment of bananas that had been brought in to Britain from South America. The following year, a fruit wholesaler working for Colombian drug cartel went on trial in the UK for attempting to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated €28 million into Britain.
In Berlin in 2015, cocaine estimated to be worth as much as €15 million was found in boxes of bananas delivered to a supermarket in Berlin. Staff working for budget chain Aldi found the drugs hidden among fruit shipped into Germany from Colombia.
Last year, a report published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said the concealment of illegal substances within consignments of perishable goods is a common tactic among traffickers bringing drugs into Europe, due to the fact that procedures are in place to allow them to pass through customs checks more easily.
The report noted a shift from concealment within containers or cargo to the rip-on/rip-off method, which involves drug smugglers planting their narcotics in shipments belonging to others.
“Corrupt officials and port employees facilitate this form of trafficking, and staff involved in the aviation industry can also be vulnerable in this regard, as illustrated by two cases of the arrest of Nigerian airline crew members in London for cocaine smuggling,” the report’s authors note.