BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Drug-sniffing dogs found a half-ton of cocaine hidden in machinery marked for shipment to Africa, customs police announced Friday.
The cocaine was tightly packed into 490 brightly colored bricks and stuffed into heavy dredging equipment being flown from the international airport in Buenos Aires to an oil company in Lagos, Nigeria, said Maria Siomara Ayeran, the director-general of Argentina's customs agency.
Something smelled funny, and not just to Tota and Gala, the agency's drug-sniffing dogs.
Ayeran said the company in Africa doesn't exist, and the exporter was under such suspicion that all its shipments are exhaustively searched.
Once the dogs marked the spot, officers opened up the machinery late Thursday and found 536 kilos of pure cocaine inside thick walls of lead and steel, Ayeran said. She said it was most likely intended for the streets of Europe, where it would be worth nearly $25 million.
Ayeran said it's the first time the Argentine government has confiscated such a large shipment of cocaine being smuggled by air from Buenos Aires to Nigeria.
"Today the link with Africa is a new route that they are exploiting and is in development," she said.
The customs agency said the suspects were known to investigators and the case was handed over to a judge who ordered six pre-dawn raids to accumulate more evidence. Officials said the identities of the people and companies involved could not be released because the case was being kept sealed while under investigation.