07/02/2013 07:38 EDT | Updated 09/01/2013 05:12 EDT

RCMP helps in seizure of drugs, guns in Caribbean and Central America

KINGSTON, Jamaica - The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have lent a helping hand to an international police operation in the Caribbean and Central America that seized hundreds of millions of dollars of cocaine and other drugs.

The investigation was led by Interpol while the Caribbean council and the World Customs Organization also partnered in the anti-smuggling operation, which was supported by the French Coast Guard and the Mounties.

"Disrupting this activity is not only critical for the source and transit countries of these drugs and weapons, but also for the destination countries such as Canada," RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said in a Tuesday statement from Ottawa.

The operation seized roughly US$822 million in drugs and led to 142 arrests, law enforcement authorities in Europe announced.

The Europol police agency supported the Interpol-led initiative dubbed "Operation Lionfish" targeting maritime drug and gun smugglers across the two regions. It involved some 34 countries and territories, including some 20 Caribbean nations including Cuba and Jamaica and Central American states like Nicaragua and Panama.

The Netherlands-based Europol said co-ordination units were based at Interpol's bureau in El Salvador and the command centre of the French West Indies Coast Guard on the island of Martinique.

During the weeks-long operation, authorities were able to share information and conduct speedy checks against the Interpol and Europol intelligence databases to cross-check suspicious vessels and cargo containers and then select them as targets to be tracked and boarded.

Patrols were conducted by land and sea. Regional police, customs, immigration and naval forces participated in the international effort to combat organized crime groups behind narcotics and illicit weapons smuggling in the Caribbean and Central America.

Besides confiscating caches of drugs and making arrests, Europol said the operation targeting maritime smuggling by criminal networks also resulted in the seizure of 15 vessels, 42 guns, US$170,000 in cash and eight tons of chemical precursors used to manufacture cocaine.

Paul Noel of the St. Lucia-headquartered Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council said the initiative "has been wonderful in that we can do the joint checks right here if there is a suspect target in the Caribbean we can immediately check these targets with our party members."

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says that South American cocaine is typically smuggled to Europe by sea, most often in container shipments. It is usually trafficked to the North American market from Colombia to Central American nations or Mexico by sea and then by land for the rest of the way.


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