Pubdate: Tue, 29 Aug 2017
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Liam Casey
Page: A7


Metric tonne found after force tipped off

The cocaine was hidden inside hollowed-out quartzite stones packed
onto shipping containers coming from Argentina - the drugs were
concealed so well that even police dogs couldn't detect them.

It was a tip from the public that ultimately led to the largest drug
seizure in the Ontario Provincial Police's history as the force
carried out an investigation into an international cocaine-smuggling
ring with ties to Mexican cartels.

Altogether the force seized 1,062 kilograms of cocaine during a
months-long investigation that culminated in July, according to OPP
deputy commissioner Rick Barnum.

"We've never seen anything like this," Barnum said Monday at a news
conference at OPP headquarters in Orillia, adding that tests revealed
the cocaine tested 97 per cent pure and was destined for distribution
across the country where it would be cut with other drugs to increase

The investigation-dubbed "Project Hope" - was conducted in
conjunction with the Canada Border Services Agency, Peel Regional
Police and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, among other

Barnum alleged that those behind the operation - two Canadian citizens
and one Costa Rican citizen who now face drug importation and drug
trafficking charges - have been in business since 2014.

The men allegedly set up a front selling stones, Barnum

"I would say the business was definitely cocaine importation; there's
a lot more money in making that than there is in selling stones," he

The force showed off hundreds of bundles of cocaine on Monday, as well
as some of the stones that had contained them.

The stones would be cut open, and cocaine, often bundled in one-
kilogram packages, would be placed i nside, police said. The stones
would then be glued back together with cement.

The police investigation began with a tip in March, Barnum said, and
"good information" later led to a traffic stop of a transport truck
north of Toronto on May 1 that led to the seizure of about 40
kilograms of cocaine.

Police then decided to test their dogs to see if their noses were up
to snuff.

"Our dogs never detected the cocaine sealed inside," Barnum

"It made it very, very difficult to detect, almost impossible, quite
frankly, without the investigative phase of our work. It was detected
through work from our intelligence operations in conjunction with Peel
Police, through good old police work following up leads through
information we received." Police found drug caches i n warehouses in
Brampton and Stoney Creek, Barnum said.

The cocaine was transported in shipping containers from Argentina to
Montreal, and then sent to Ontario, police allege.

"Argentina is not really a source country or production country for
cocaine," Barnum said, adding that the South American nation is a
transportation link to such countries as Peru, Paraguay and Bolivia,
where cocaine is made.

"I would say there are definitely connections to Mexico and Mexican
cartels," Barnum added.
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