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Venezuela arrests 3 soldiers in cocaine bust

| Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013, 9:15 p.m.

PARIS — Venezuela has arrested three National Guard officials for alleged involvement in smuggling 1.45 tons of cocaine on an Air France flight from Caracas to Paris, the South American nation's public prosecutor's office said on Sunday.

The seizure of the cocaine haul, valued at as much as $270 million, occurred as Washington is again accusing Venezuela of failing to adequately fight trafficking of cocaine from neighboring Colombia.

Public prosecutors will charge a first sergeant, a second sergeant and a first lieutenant for “allegedly committing crimes established by Venezuelan law,” the prosecutor's office said, without offering details of what charges it would file.

It added that authorities in Paris had detained six people, three of whom are Italian and three British.

The drugs were stashed in suitcases that were registered under false names that did not correspond to passengers on the flight to Charles de Gaulle Airport, French police sources said.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls estimated the cocaine shipment had a value of $67 million, while police and legal sources said the street value of the drug could be as much as $270 million.

“This marks the biggest seizure of cocaine ever made in mainland France as part of a judicial investigation,” Valls said.

French authorities said the drugs were found earlier this month but details of the raid were only released over the weekend. Venezuelan authorities said the drugs were seized on Friday.

Air France said it was still trying to find out how the drugs were smuggled on board.

“Pending the results of these investigations, immediate measures have been taken to enhance our checks of baggage and goods on departure from certain sensitive destinations,” the airline said in a statement.

Drug enforcement experts say Venezuela's location on South America's Caribbean and Atlantic seaboards makes it a preferred route for planes and ships carrying Colombian cocaine to the United States and Europe.

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