Hong Kong customs agents discovered $31.7 million of cocaine stashed inside an aircraft engine shipped from Ecuador, making the weekend coke bust the biggest of its kind this year.
- The engine, which arrived in March in a shipping container, raised concern among customs officers, as jet engines are rarely shipped from South America, the receiver never collected the cargo and an X-ray revealed a strange shape, according to the South China Morning Post.
- The officers discovered a secret compartment within the engine that contained eight containers a total of 217 kilograms of the illegal drug.
- Though Hong Kong’s Customs Drug Investigation Bureau believes that some of the cocaine was intended for local consumption, much was to be shipped to other countries.
- This is the largest cocaine bust globally of 2020, though earlier this month, the U.S. Navy intercepted a vessel with $28 million of cocaine in the eastern Pacific Ocean.
- The cocaine economy, worth north of $100 billion, has reportedly adapted with greater efficiency to the pandemic than many other legitimate businesses, according to the Organized Crime And Corruption Reporting Project.
“The cocaine trade is thriving in a world where even mainstays like oil are facing major disruptions,” says the Organized Crime And Corruption Reporting Project in an investigative look into the drug trade.
Though difficult to assess the market size, the illegal cocaine economy is valued around $113 billion with producers making over 2,000 metric tons of cocaine yearly, according to OCCRP. And trafficking has flourished amid the pandemic: April and March cocaine seizures dropped by 80% year-over-year in coronavirus-ravished Italy, while the street price of the drug in the country increased between 20% to 30%. The drug itself is increasingly cut with cheap, addictive and dangerous substances, making it less expensive to produce and more deadly for users. And while street sales have decreased, sales on the dark web—where seller origin and buyer identity is hard to trace—have increased by 30% worldwide. In Europe, customers are getting the drug dropped on their doorstep by dealers disguised as food couriers or other essential workers.