Argentina details bust of liquid cocaine smugglers

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Associated Press

Posted on May 16, 2014 at 11:32 AM

Updated Friday, May 16 at 11:36 AM

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Crooked Argentine federal police partnered with a Mexican chemist to smuggle liquid cocaine for the Sinaloa cartel to the United States and Europe, Argentine Security Minister Sergio Berni said Friday.

Berni said internal affairs officers had been tracking the band as it stole cars, invaded houses, protected drug traffickers and accumulated cocaine from Bolivia and Peru.

Once the group amassed enough cocaine, Berni said, its Mexican connection came to Buenos Aires to convert it to liquid. The cocaine then replaced the oil inside two huge electricity generators and passed undetected through the scanners in Argentine and Mexican ports.

Investigative judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado and other Argentine authorities then followed the trail to Mexico's Yucutan Peninsula, where the generators arrived in a container ship, and urged authorities there to test the liquid. Only then did they confirm that 2,000 liters (525 gallons) of cocaine worth $40 million was inside, Berni said.

"The important thing is to investigate, to not be afraid, to show courage like this judge did," Berni said. "We know the firepower they (traffickers) have." Nine people were arrested, including Cesar Cornejo of Mexico, who engaged in a firefight with police he mistook for cartel assassins. Berni said he personally negotiated Cornejo's surrender on April 22, and that in their search of his apartment, officials were able to document that the cocaine had left Argentina.

Berni did not identify any of the Argentine suspects involved, but said raids of their homes turned up the evidence his ministry put on display Friday: an arsenal of guns and ammunition, official police and private security company uniforms, communications equipment, computers, cash and even snorkeling gear.

Berni said he suspects the band also was involved in a string of recent burglaries in which thieves swam into posh, gated communities in the river delta outside Buenos Aires where Argentina's wealthy seek refuge from crime.

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