Shipping containers are seen at the Genoa port on March 15, 2016 in Genoa, Italy. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ JACOPO RAULE
Shipping containers are seen at the Genoa port on March 15, 2016 in Genoa, Italy. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ JACOPO RAULE

Rome — Italian police said on Thursday they had seized more than two tons of pure cocaine from Colombia in the biggest drug bust in Italy in 25 years.

The drugs, with a street value of about €500m, were discovered last week packed into 60 bags at the port of Genoa in a container from the South American country destined for Barcelona in Spain.

“The drugs belonged to several drug-trafficking organisations associated with the armed group known as the ‘Gulf Clan’,” a police statement said in reference to Colombia’s famed drug cartel.

The Gulf Clan accounts for about 70% of Colombia’s cocaine production and uses violence and intimidation to control narcotics trafficking routes, cocaine processing laboratories and departure points.

Police replaced the 1,801 packets of cocaine with salt and sent the cargo on its way in a ploy to catch the drug runners, according to media reports.

A 59-year-old Spanish national was arrested in Barcelona when he attempted to collect the shipment, police said.

Once in Barcelona, the drug was destined to supply a Europe-wide market. The raid followed an international investigation involving police from Britain, Spain and Colombia, which is the world’s leading coca leaf grower and also the biggest source of cocaine, according to the UN.

The biggest cocaine-consuming countries are Albania, Scotland and the US, according to a 2017 UN report.

The haul followed the news on Wednesday that Italian police had discovered almost 650kg of cocaine in a shipping container of coffee beans in one of the biggest busts of the past 10 years.

That batch, found in 23 large bags during a search at the port of Livorno in Tuscany, had a street value of €130m.

The cocaine, discovered on January 15, was in a container that had set off from Honduras, before being transferred to another cargo ship in Costa Rica. Its final destination was Barcelona, police said.

“The port of Genoa, along with Livorno, has become the new crossroads for international smuggling,” Genoa prosecutor Francesco Cozzi told a media conference.

“Genoa port has replaced Gioia Tauro,” he said, in reference to the Calabrian port, which is in the steely grip of the powerful Ndrangheta organised crime group, thought to run much of Europe’s cocaine trade.

Italian police netted about 270kg of heroin in a container from Iran in Genoa port in November, and arrested two alleged smugglers in an operation involving forces in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Drug-trafficking hunters said on Wednesday they had arrested four people from the Casamonica clan in Rome for alleged cocaine trafficking in an operation dubbed “Brasil Low Cost”.

The Casamonica, which has ethnic Sinti roots, was one of the alleged crime networks accused of infiltrating the Italian capital’s government and influencing politicians in a large-scale corruption investigation in 2015.