Easter weekend brings Belgium another record cocaine seizure

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgian authorities came out of the long Easter weekend with another record cocaine haul after customs officials at the port of Antwerp seized almost 11 tons of the drug, discovered amid a cargo of blue leather.

The shipment brought the total amount of cocaine seized in Belgium over the past six weeks to 27.64 tons worth an estimated $1.63 billion as police capitalized on the breaking of an encrypted communications network popular with criminals, prosecutors said.

Last month, Belgian police arrested 48 people during an operation involving more than 1,500 officers and targeting organized drug crime. Four more arrests were announced on Tuesday, including suspects who worked at the finance ministry, the Antwerp city services and (backslash)the port. The prosecutor’s office said they were charged with gang membership, bribery and abuse of trust.

Belgian prosecutors said investigators cracked the encrypted messaging service Sky ECC and intercepted a billion messages during a two-year investigation.

With thousands of shipping containers reaching Antwerp every day, the Belgian port city is one of Europe’s main entry ports for cocaine. Trafficking in the city has led to a recent surge of violence, including gun battles and grenade attacks.