Authorities in Germany and Belgium have discovered 23,000kg of cocaine concealed in cans of construction putty and timber in the ports of Hamburg and Antwerp.
The find, which has a street value of around €2.3bn, was described by one official as the largest amount of cocaine ever seized in Europe.
Police subsequently arrested the man to whom the putty was sent, a 28-year-old resident of the town of Vlaardingden in the Netherlands. Searches were carried out in his home and at two business addresses in Rotterdam and Bleskensgraaf by the Dutch National Criminal Investigation Department.
The first search was made in Hamburg, when the drug was found hidden in 1,728 cans of putty carried on a ship that came from Paraguay, via Tangier and Rotterdam.
Rene Matschke, the head of German Customs Investigation, told CNN that it was "pretty disgusting to separate the cocaine from the putty as it is so sticky".
Dutch police said the find came after a "risk analysis" was carried out on three sample containers on 12 February.
Following the discovery, Dutch police investigated the Vlaardingden recipient, which led them to 11 other containers on their way from Panama to Antwerp, purportedly filled with pineapple, mackerel, squid and wood.
Belgian authorities subsequently found 7,200kg of cocaine in the container carrying blocks of wood.
Rolf Bösinger, state secretary in Germany’s Federal Ministry of Finance, praised the customs officers, saying: "We have succeeded in seizing a record amount of cocaine. With this blow against organized narcotics crime — also thanks to the exemplary cooperation with European partner authorities — German Customs has once again impressively demonstrated its clout. Our strategy of continuing to massively strengthen customs is working."
Hamburg customs officers handle about 8 million containers a year.
Image: The cans of construction putty where the Hamburg cocaine was found (Dutch Public Prosecution Office)