Agents of the Investigative Brigade of Controlled Chemical Substances (BRISUQ) of Chile’s Investigative Police (PDI) and Chile’s Customs Service concluded 2022 with an unprecedented seizure at the Port of Arica. The seizure consisted of dozens of containers with more than 690 tons of chemical precursors used for the manufacture of drugs, mainly cocaine.
“The major milestone that made this seizure possible was the alert that Bolivia gave us regarding the existence of a criminal gang involved in importing raw materials in containers from China to Bolivia for the manufacture of cocaine,” Commissioner Gonzalo Santander, deputy chief of the PDI’s BRISUQ, told Diálogo on January 8. “This was an important warning because in Bolivia these substances are not subject to control, so the Bolivian Police would have had to wait until the precursors nearly arrived at destination to be able to act and control them.”
In Chile, drug precursors are tightly controlled, so the seizure of the chemicals was possible and legal.
The two-year operation, dubbed Etilox, had the collaboration of the Chemical Substances Investigation Group of the Bolivian National Police’s Special Force to Combat Drug Trafficking and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Global Container Control Programme, said Chile’s Customs Service, which, together with the PDI, described the seizure as “historic and unprecedented” due to the amount seized.
The precursors were stored in 41 containers. Thirty-six of them contained 576 tons of ethyl acetate; one container held 24 tons of sodium hydroxide; another container held 26 tons of sodium metabisulfite; and three other containers carried 64 tons of calcium chloride, the PDI said in a statement.
The drug precursors found were used to process, dissolve, purify, dry, and neutralize chemicals essential in the drug manufacturing process. With the amount of raw material found, some 60 tons of cocaine hydrochloride could have been produced, the PDI added.
“The diversion of chemicals is an illicit activity that’s a mix between legal and illegal […]; therefore, the profile we have of the gangs that carry out the diversion of chemicals is that of a businessman,” Commissioner Santander said. “They are people who know about the business, logistics, and are generally very skilled in both worlds, who do not attract much attention, go unnoticed and, therefore, are not criminals who walk around carrying a gun. They get their orders from gang leaders.”
“We control to protect Chile and its inhabitants from the entry of illicit goods that foster organized crime,” Fernando Rousseau, director of the Arica Regional Customs Office, told the press. “This is a historic blow in Chile and Latin America, where the work of the Arica Customs inspectors stands out, who, thanks to their experience, raised the alerts and spurred international coordination, in addition to the interinstitutional work with the Prosecutor’s Office of Alto Hospicio and the PDI.”
“This is undoubtedly a major blow to criminal organizations linked to the production of drugs and their subsequent commercialization that operate in neighboring countries and in Chile,” Raúl Arancibia, Tarapacá regional prosecutor said. “We want to highlight the collaboration of the Bolivian Special Force against Drug Trafficking […]. This type of collaboration between prosecutors’ offices and police of Chile and Bolivia, which we have already seen in other cases, is fundamental when it comes to confronting transnational organized crime.”
Following this seizure, the PDI and Chile’s Customs Service will keep up their collaboration with the Bolivian National Police with the objective of strengthening, within the framework of legal international agreements, a more immediate and precise monitoring of products entering and leaving Bolivia, Commissioner Santander concluded.