Spanish police said Wednesday they had seized 4.1 tonnes of cocaine worth nearly a quarter of a billion euros in one of the biggest ever seizures of the drug in the country.
The cocaine was found at a warehouse in the eastern city of Elche, hidden in containers of cow hides that came by boat from Colombia and were to be delivered to a shoe maker, police said in a statement.
The cocaine was stored in thousands of packages containing just over a kilo (two pounds) of the drug each, enough for around 82 million doses.
The cocaine is worth nearly 242 million euros ($327 million) and was destined for distribution in Spain and across Europe.
Police detained three Spanish men, including the suspected leader of the drug trafficking ring, and searched 16 houses, businesses and warehouses that belonged to the suspects.
The authorities seized two shotguns, a hunting rifle, a box of ammunition, three machetes, two computers, and six luxury vehicles, as well as 6,755 euros in cash.
Police swooped on traffickers just as they appeared to be getting ready to remove the cocaine from the warehouse in several trucks.
It was one of the biggest cocaine seizures ever carried out on land in Spain and the biggest since police in 2001 seized 4.4 tonnes of cocaine hidden in a warehouse amongst a shipment of canned sardines.
Major cocaine seizures in Spain usually happen at sea. In 2006, police seized three tonnes of it in a boat off the Canary Islands in the Atlantic.
The following year, they seized four tonnes of cocaine from a boat off the coast of Almeria in the Mediterranean.
Spain’s close ties with its former colonies in Latin America, a major cocaine-producing region, and its proximity to Morocco, a key source of hashish, have made it a major gateway into Europe for drug traffickers.
Large amounts of cocaine have been found in recent years hidden amongst shipments of roses, cakes, exotic wood and fake plastic bananas.