The 20 Largest Drug Seizures in World History
There are many crimes that take place across the globe every single day. However, the majority of these go unnoticed, even when there is a big police investigation. These crimes vary from minor offenses, such as shoplifting and minor driving incidents, to more serious crimes, like sexual assaults and murder. Unless the person involved is famous or the crime has led to a national or international threat, many of these crimes are not covered by the media and, therefore, people are unaware that a crime has taken place. One group of crimes that take place regularly around the world are drug-related crimes.
These range from possession and supply, to growing or manufacturing drugs and international drug smuggling. Drug-related crimes are something that the police take extremely seriously in most countries around the world. Drugs can lead to illness, addiction, deaths, and other crimes. For this reason, police investigate the sources of the main drugs supply and then seize the drugs before they get out on the streets and into the hands of the public. Although many people are unaware of these drugs seizures taking place, police have recovered huge amounts of drugs with astronomic street values in various locations across the globe. They often keep their activities quiet to prevent raising awareness of their findings and techniques. Despite this, some of the seizures have been so large that they have made it into the headlines.
Here are 20 of the biggest drugs seizures in world history:
20. Canadians Smuggling in 2018 – 95 kilogram of Cocaine- $21 Million
Canadians Melina Roberge and Andre Tamine pleaded guilty to smuggling $21 million’s worth of cocaine from Britain to Australia. They were aiding their porn star friend, Isabelle Lagace who is known as the ‘cocaine babe’. They were caught with their stash hidden below their towels in their suitcases when their cruise ship docked in Australia. It was discovered in their cabin by Australian Border Force officials. In the month prior to the drug seizure, the pair had taken many photos of their cruise and posted them on Instagram. The photos showed them having a great time, posing in their bikinis and enjoying the good weather. Although they originally denied their involvement in smuggling the drugs, they changed their plea to guilty after the porn star was sentenced to four and a half years in prison for her involvement. This incident took place in early 2018.
19. The Trans-Border Railway 2010 – 30 Tons of Marijuana- $21.2 Million Dollars
In 2010, Mexican marijuana traffickers wanted to transport pot across the border of Mexico and California. Inspired by the events of history, they built their own version of an underground railroad that passed directly beneath the border. Police became suspicious when they saw a truck visiting a Tijuana warehouse and decided to follow it. In doing so, they discovered an entrance to a hidden passageway that was freshly excavated. What was beyond this entrance took them completely by surprise. They found a tunnel that measured approximately 1,800 feet in length that was complete with its own light rail system. It was being used to deliver marijuana from a small crawlspace at the Californian end of the tunnel under the border and into Mexico. The authorities seized what they found which was 30 tonnes of marijuana. It has a value today of around $21.2 million. Bizarrely, two days prior to the seizure, the residents of California had voted against legalizing cannabis.
18. Mexican Drug Tunnel 2016 – 1.1 Ton of Marijuana and 2.2 Tons Cocaine- $61 Million (Estimated)
The above story is not that unusual as there are many incidences of drugs being transported between Mexico and the United States via underground tunnels. In fact, this has been one of the most common techniques of smuggling drugs between the two countries throughout history. Another example of this is the drugs haul of 2016 when 1.1 tons of marijuana and 2.2 tons of cocaine were confiscated from a tunnel between the Mexican and US border. The tunnel, which runs from Otay Mesa to Tijuana, is believed to be the longest tunnel discovered of its kind as it measures almost half a mile in length. Although no official figures have been released about this drugs haul, it is estimated at around $61 million.
17. Colombia 2016- 8.8 Tons of Cocaine – $240 Million
While the drugs activities of Pablo Escobar are well-known, incidents relating to this cartel kingpin are not the only drug-related incidents in Colombia. Unfortunately, Colombia is the setting for many drug seizures as drug use is prolific in this country. In 2016, Colombian authorities seized a massive haul of 8.8 tons of cocaine that had an estimated street value of $240 million. The authorities revealed that the drugs were discovered in an underground hole at a banana farm in the Caribbean town of Turbo which is less than 300 miles from Bogota, the capital of Colombia. The cocaine was stashed inside 359 bags and is the largest drugs seizure in Colombia of all-time. According to the police, the cocaine belonged to the notorious Usaga Clan who are well-known for their involvement in drugs. It was reported that three people were arrested during the operation.
16. Saudi Arabia 2014- 22.6 Million of Amphetamine Pills- $267 Million
In a fairly recent drugs bust, six people were arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2014 after they attempted to smuggle 22.6 million amphetamine pills into the country. They had hidden the pills inside rolls of plastic and coils of barbed wire. Such strange luggage was probably enough to draw attention to them in the first place. The street value of such a large quantity of amphetamine pills is estimated in the region of $267 million.
15. Operation Aussie X 2008 – 4.4 Tons of MDMA- $309 million
One of the biggest ecstasy seizures in history was conducted by the Australian authorities. In 2008, much to the disappointment of Australian ravers, the Australian Federal Police stung an ecstasy supplier based in Melbourne. The year-long operation involved them arresting people involved in the drugs supply at every level. Some of those arrested for their involvement included dock workers, freight haulers, and drugs bosses. The drugs were being imported from Italy inside 3,000 cans of tomatoes and arriving at the docks in Melbourne. The operation involved recovering the drugs from a sprawling mansion in Griffith. The police seized the drugs which consisted of 15 million MDMA pills, weighing 4.4 tonnes, and with a street value of $309 million. Following the sting, there were many disappointed ravers.
14. Colombia 2017 – 12 Tons of Cocaine- $360 Million
In November 2017, Colombia was once again the setting for one of the world’s largest drugs seizures as police are striving to reduce the number of drug-related crimes in this country. Police seized 12 tons of cocaine that were found underground at four different farms in the Antioquia province, which is a banana growing region. It is estimated that this haul has a market price of around $360 million. However, there is enough cocaine to break down into eleven million hits of one gram each and this has a street value of around $660 million. This seizure was made through the combined efforts of local forces and international intelligence.
13. Afghanistan 2008 – 260 Tons of Hashish- $376 million
In 2008, a stash of hashish was found in underground military trenches and bunkers in Afghanistan. There was approximately 260 tons of hashish discovered and this is the equivalent to the weight of 30 double-decker buses. It also has a whopping net value of $376 million. Rather than waste man hours trying to remove the stash, the military took a rather unusual approach to getting rid of the drugs. They opted to call in an airstrike to destroy the trenches and bunkers as this would ultimately also destroy the drugs.
12. Pacific Ocean 2016 – 14 Tons of Cocaine- $400 Million
Although it is land-based forces who are usually responsible for seizing drugs, the United States Coast Guards also play their role. This is because drugs arriving in the United States often originate from overseas and arrive by boat. This was the case on April 8, 2016, when the United States Coast Guards were responsible for seizing 14 Tons of Cocaine in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. These drugs had an estimated street value of $400 million.
11. The 2005 Colombian Seizure – 14 Tons of Cocaine- $415 Million
While in America opposing political parties battle out their differences with words on television, things are taken much more seriously in Colombia and violence is often involved. There are extreme differences between the right wing Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) and the left- wing Marxist revolutionaries. However, a drug haul in 2005 brought the two sides together in an issue about which they agree. Colombian police seized a haul of cocaine found on the Mira River that was one of the biggest seizures of this drug ever in the world. The 14 tons of cocaine were owned by the AUC and guarded by the Marxists. The value of the seizure at that time was around $350 million which is the equivalent to $415 million in today’s money.
10. Mexican Cowabungle 2010 – 105 Tons of Marijuana – $425 Million
The operation which became known as ‘Cowabungle’ was the biggest in Mexican history. It involved a shoot-out in which nobody died, but 11 people were arrested in relation to trafficking and supplying drugs. The operation led to the seizure of 105 Tonnes of Marijuana that had a value of $425 million. However, it was not just the size of the haul that made this operation famous; it was also the way in which the drugs were packaged. They were very indiscreetly wrapped in brightly colored packaging that boasted pictures of famous cartoon characters. One of these was Homer Simpson from ‘The Simpsons’. On the picture, he was shown to be shouting ‘Voy de mojarra, que way!’. This translates as ‘I’m gonna get high, dude!’. With such blatant packaging, it was little wonder that those responsible were caught and jailed.
9. Panama Operation Decked 2007 – 20 Tons of Cocaine- $670 Million
Rather than using the tried and tested method of swallowing balloons or condoms filled with cocaine as a way of smuggling the drug, a group of Panama smugglers opted to attempt to hide in plain sight. The cartel loaded numerous bales of cocaine into cargo containers. They then put these on the top deck of a freighter. Unfortunately, the DEA and Coast Guard became aware of their operation and seized the drugs from a Panamanian ship called Gatun. The seizure involved a haul of 20 tons of cocaine that had a staggering value of $670 million. This took place in 2007 and, at that time, it was the largest maritime cocaine seizure conducted by the United States forces.
8. The UK’s Biggest Haul 2015- 3.2 Tons of Cocaine – $697 million
In April 2015, the biggest drug’s seizure in UK history took place and this resulted in the arrest of two Turkish men who later both pleaded guilty to attempting to smuggle 3.2 tonnes of cocaine into the United Kingdom. This drugs haul had an estimated street value of $697 million. One representative for the police said that this was the equivalent to a full year’s worth of drug seizures. The drugs were found in a rather unusual way. Officers searching a vessel in Aberdeen Harbour found a tiny quantity of cocaine on the end of one of the drill bits they were using during the search. This led to further investigation. They informed the French Authorities that the Tanzanian registered vessel Hamal was off the west coast of the UK and it was their belief that it was carrying a large quantity of cocaine. When the vessel was found and searched, the huge stash of drugs was discovered.
7. Texas 1989 – 14 Tons of Cocaine – $1 Billion
In 1989, Texan authorities conducted a double bust. The first bust was a ship off the Texas coast and the authorities found 5 tons of cocaine on board. In a related bust on the same day, a further 9 tons of cocaine was found in the house of a suspected drugs kingpin. It is believed that the cocaine had originated in Colombia, so the bust was a huge pain for the drug lords in this country. It is estimated, making it one of the most successful seizures in the history of the United States. that the total street value of the cocaine was in the region of $1 billion.
6. Australia 2014 – 2.8 Tons of Amphetamines and MDMA – $1.5 Billion
MDMA and amphetamines are two of the most popular drugs in Australia and are taken by partygoers and ravers in an attempt to enhance their experience. However, these drugs are potentially lethal and Australian authorities are cracking down hard and trying to seize the drugs before they make it onto the streets. On November 14, 2014, they seized a huge haul of the drugs. In fact, there were 2.8 tons of MDMA and methamphetamine pills. These had arrived in Australia via a sea cargo container from Hamburg in Germany. They were concealed within the containers inside furniture. The pills had an estimated street value of $1.5 billion.
5. Saudi Arabia/ Turkey 2010- 30 Tons of Captagon Materials – $1.6 Billion
In 2010, Saudi Arabian and Turkish authorities seized 30 tons of ingredients that are intended to create a pill called Captagon. This drug is also commonly known as the ‘Jihad Pill’. It is commonly shipped between the two countries and there have been many seizures of this drug in the last two decades. However, this is one of the largest seizures to date. There was enough of the ingredients to create approximately 200 million of the tablets, which are psycho-stimulants. These would have a street value of around $1.6 billion.
4. The Pablo Escobar Seizures 1984- 14 Tons of Cocaine – $2.2 billion
Pablo Escobar was one of the biggest coke kingpins in history. At the height of his criminal activities, he was earning millions of dollars every day. He achieved such a high income by supplying around 50% of his cocaine to the United States. As his operation was so big, it took many vehicles to meet the demand for his drugs. He would use boats, planes, helicopters, and even submarines to smuggle the drugs to wherever it was needed. A lot of the drugs were made in a secret laboratory in a jungle called Tranquilandia. This laboratory had its own airstrip and a personal army. It even had off-the grid electricity and water supplies and dormitories for those who worked there. The DEA were desperate to catch this coke Kingpin and used tracking devices on his raw materials to hunt him down and seize his drugs. The seizure took place in 1984 and the DEA recovered approximately 14 tons of cocaine. At today’s value, this was worth around $2.2 billion. However, this would have only made a small dent in Pablo Escobar’s yearly income which was believed to be around $25 billion annually at that time.
3. San Francisco Bust 1991- 1,059 Pounds of Heroin – $5 Billion
Heroin addicts in San Francisco found it a little more difficult to get their fix after a bust in 1991. At that time, the authorities could claim they were responsible for the biggest haul of heroin ever and there is even TV footage of their haul as television crews witnessed the stash. When 1,059 pounds of China White heroin in 59 boxes arrived in the Bay area from Thailand, the police were there ready to seize it. The haul had a value of around $5 million at the street value of today. Its value was greater than that of the DEA budget for the year 2010. Commanders of the Drug War estimated that the haul was the equivalent to 5% of the heroin produced in the world in 1991.
2. California Haul 1989- 21 Tons of Cocaine – $13 Billion
Most people living in a California residential community located in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains were aware that they had a criminal neighbour. This area was home to Rafael Munoz Talavera, a big-time cocaine cartel kingpin. In 1989, 21 tons of cocaine was seized from his warehouse. Although this was small change in comparison to the 77 tons that had passed through the warehouse in the previous year, it was a large enough haul to become a record-breaking drug seizure. It has a current street value of $13 billion and the quantity is enough for every single resident of the United States to enjoy five lines of cocaine. The transportation costs alone for trafficking such a large quantity of drugs had set Talavera back $81 million. In addition to the haul of cocaine, police also seized $12 million in cash.
1. Afghanistan 2009 – 92 Tons of Opium and Poppy Seeds – Priceless
One of the biggest fundraising activities for terrorist groups, such as the Taliban, is opium trafficking. It is estimated that approximately 90% of the opium in the world originates in Afghanistan. The Afghan forces led a 2009 operation to seize 92 tonnes of opium and poppy seeds. As this is such a huge haul, it is difficult to put a price on the value of these drugs. However, the Afghan forces considered it triumph in both the War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism. It is credited as the biggest ever drug seizure conducted by the Afghan forces. However, there are those that argue that this seizure came at a price. The operation was described as uncoordinated and ineffective and it led to the loss of 60 members of the forces. The drugs were destroyed when the forces ordered an airstrike on the stash.
This article was originally posted in 2018.