The federal police in Antwerp province yesterday raided the country’s first-ever cocaine laundry, seizing 51kg of the drug and arresting 11 people.
Cocaine is a soluble drug which can, in solution, be transported along with many other goods, such as textiles. The cocaine is dissolved in water, which is then used to soak the cloth, which then dries, the drug remaining behind.
After the cloth has been transported to its destination, it can then be washed again to remove the cocaine. All that’s then required is for the drug to be taken out of solution and pressed into the familiar bricks that police forces display after any sizeable haul.
Friday’s laundry was situated in a warehouse on an industrial site in Arendonk, a town of some 13,000 people that sits right on the border with the Netherlands near the city of Turnhout.
Drugs laundries have turned up many times across the border in the Netherlands, where the goods involved come in via Rotterdam. This is the first time, however, such a facility has turned up in Belgium, police said.
Arendonk was probably chosen because of the warehouse facility rather than its proximity to the Netherlands, however. Although Friday’s operation was conducted by the Antwerp federal police in cooperation with their Dutch colleagues.
So far, the operation has led to 11 arrests, who will be provisionally charged by an investigating magistrate in Turnhout with drugs offences and criminal conspiracy.
In the meantime, the investigation continues, since the laundry is only a mid-point in the supply line between producer and dealer. The investigation already involves the National Institute for Criminalistics and Criminology, and the Clan Lab Response Unit of the federal police, which investigates clandestine drugs laboratories.