On Thursday evening, the Sri Lankan police narcotic bureau (PNB) seized 274 kilograms of cocaine, the biggest catch ever on the island nation.
The product was camouflaged among sacks of sugar in a container lying in the Peliyagoda container yard. The sugar importer, who has been in the business for 40 years now, was arrested along with two clerks for further probing. Police forces were able to find it thanks to information gathered from a businessman who was under investigation.
The seized cocaine comes from Brazil, the same place of origin of another recent big seizure of 91 kilograms made by the Sri Lankan Police Special Task Force on June 14. Such consistent quantities open a series of questions, mainly about the real destination of the product.
Apart from ten kilograms found by Sri Lankan police in 2010, in recent years most of the reported seizures were less than two kilograms.
Sri Lanka does not have a history of massive cocaine consumption. The most commonly used drugs are opium-derived, especially heroin, and also cannabis, which is cultivated directly in the island nation.
Cocaine is costly and Sri Lanka is believed to be one of the countries where the white powder is most expensive. The price varies according to the quality: the greater the purity the higher the price. A gram of the average cocaine available on the streets of Sri Lanka costs a bit more than $100. This amount can be bought for half the price in many European and American cities.
At a hundred dollars a gram, cocaine is only accessible to the well-off Sri Lankan society and its famous and lively Colombo party scene. It is also often the ingredient of the many peak-season parties in the southern seaside localities, where tourists from all over the world enjoy their holidays every summer.
It is hard to believe that nearly 300 kilograms of cocaine will be used only for those parties though. As reported by the police narcotic bureau, Sri Lanka is believed to be only a transit point.
The island nation is one of the main crossroads for goods headed towards south and southeast Asia, a region that hosts many countries where cocaine is a popular drug – China, Australia, Thailand and India just to name a few.
Further, the seized product was in its pure form and it could have easily been reprocessed. Most dealers "cut" it with several chemicals to increase its volume. To put it into practice, it means taking one kilogram of cocaine, mixing it with other powders, ephedrine, caffeine or even chalk in the worst cases, making it weigh two kilograms or more.
The cut is the core part of the whole game, it is from there that the maximum profit is generated. Dealers buy, and pay, a certain amount of cocaine which can be doubled or even tripled after cutting. And the earning skyrockets.
The 274 kilograms of cocaine seized in Sri Lanka could have become more than 500. Making a rough calculation it means bringing its street value from roughly $30 million to sixty. And this is a conservative estimate, as it is not uncommon for cocaine's volume to triple during the process.
These quantities and figures are not the work of a petty criminal network, but of a bigger and transnational organization who is using the island nation as one of the ports to distribute the pricey white powder all over Asia. A particularly worrying fact, considering that after major Chinese investments, the southern port of Hambantota has become the main transit point of thousands of international containers crossing the Indian Ocean every day.