Officials in Paraguay intercepted a tour bus loaded with 296 kilos of cocaine on its way to the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on August 14.
The bus, empty except for two men and the cocaine, was stopped on the Paraguay side of the Friendship Bridge, which connects Ciudad del Este in Paraguay with Foz do Iguaça in Brazil, according to a report from Paraguayan news site ABC and first spotted by Insight Crime.
Paraguayan authorities were tipped off that something was amiss with the bus — which still had the logos of a transport company — when they noticed that it had no passengers.
Authorities charged two men, a 52-year-old and 46-year-old, with drug trafficking and other crimes. The cocaine, in 274 packets, was hidden in a meter-long, 20-centimeter wide false bottom underneath a mini-fridge. The bus was sold by VIPS Tours SA in late July, with the buyer promising to remove the logos.
Upon examining the seized cocaine, officials determined that its likely origin was Colombia, which is the world’s largest producer of the drug. They said it would have had a value of $3 million on the Brazil market, according to ABC. Authorities also seized cellphones and cash.
The region around Ciudad del Este, where Brazil and Uruguay border Paraguay, has emerged as a hub for smuggling drugs and other illicit goods, particularly with the run-up to the Olympics this month.
Authorities determined that the cocaine seized on August 14 was headed for Rio, where other high-profile drug seizures have occurred and where increased violence in the city prompted state and federal officials to deploy tens of thousands of armed soldiers and police.
While this cocaine shipment would have stayed in Brazil, South America’s largest country has become a key transshipment point for the drug — not only because its porous borders and location make it a good jumping-off point for cocaine from Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru that’s bound for markets in Africa, Asia, and Europe, but also because Brazil itself is the world’s second-largest consumer of cocaine behind the US.
Paraguay, through which the cocaine shipment was passing, is also a major producer of marijuana, and its location and widespread corruption among officials there has helped generate an “uncontainable avalanche” of contraband, an senior official in the country said in late 2014.