Colombia Just Seized $360m of U.S.-Bound Cocaine, But What Are the Biggest Drug Busts In History?

Colombia’s security forces will be giving themselves a big pat on the back after seizing 12 tons of cocaine buried across four banana plantations in the north of the country, in what Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said was the biggest drugs seizure in a single police operation in the country's history.

 

 

The cocaine had a street value of $360 million and was found close to routes used to smuggle the drug to the United States. Police said it belonged to Dairo Úsuga—known as Otoniel—the leader of El Clan del Golfo (The Gulf Clan), one of the country’s most dangerous drug-trafficking and paramilitary groups.

But despite its impressive size, the haul in Colombia pales in comparison to some of the biggest drug seizures in history around the world.

Los Angeles, 1989—21.4 tons of cocaine, worth almost $7 billion

In what is thought to be the biggest cocaine seizure ever, authorities in Los Angeles raided a warehouse in Sylmar that served as the hub for a trafficking operation that brought Colombian-made cocaine through Mexico and into the United States. What they found was astonishing: 21.4 tons of cocaine, stacked in boxes that could form a pile the size of two school buses. The street value of the drug was estimated at $6.9 billion and there was so much of it that about five hits could have been given to every person in the United States.

San Francisco, 1991—1,080 pounds of heroin, worth around $3 billion

A raid on a warehouse in Hayward in the San Francisco Bay area in June 1991 turned up more than 1,000 pounds of China white heroin. According to customs agents, the drugs were shipped from Myanmar, Laos and Thailand; authorities had watched the shipment arrive at the Port of Oakland and surveilled the warehouse for a month before acting. The value of the drug was estimated at between $2.5-3 billion.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey, 2010—30 tons of material for Captagon, worth $1.6 billion

Authorities in Saudi Arabia and Turkey carried out joint operations in 2010 that seized, among other things, 30 tons worth of material that could have produced 200 million Captagon pills, with an estimated market value of $1.6 billion. The main ingredient in Captagon is fenethylline, a psychostimulant once used to treat depression and narcolepsy but which has been outlawed for decades in many countries. But illicit trade in Captagon pills remains a huge problem in the Middle East. There have been rumors that jihadis from the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) have taken Captagon before carrying out attacks, but an expert paper published in July claimed to dispel that myth.

Australia, 2014—2.8 tons of drugs including MDMA and methamphetamine, worth $1.5 billion

Australian security forces made a massive seizure of illegal drugs when searching a sea cargo container from Hamburg, Germany, in 2014. The seizure included 1,917 kilograms of MDMA—also known as ecstasy—and 849 kilograms of methamphetamine, which had a combined street value of more than $1.5 billion. Each kilogram of methamphetamine constitutes around 10,000 street deals, meaning that the shipment was large enough to result in almost 8.5 million purchases of the drug. Authorities in Australia said that the shipment had originated in Europe and that several criminal organizations were probably involved in it.

Colombia, 1984—13.8 metric tons of cocaine, worth $1.2 billion

By no means the biggest drug seizure in Colombia’s history, but one for Narcos fans. Colombian national police, backed by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents, carried out a raid on a cocaine complex known as Tranquilandia run by Pablo Escobar, perhaps Colombia’s most famous drug trafficker. The raid destroyed a drug-making laboratory and authorities seized 13.8 metric tons (13,800 kilograms) of cocaine, worth around $1.2 billion.

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