Customs agents in Belgium have seized more cocaine than they are able to dispose of in a timely manner, officials told local outlet VRT News on Saturday. It is estimated that more than 100 tons of the drug – valued at about €5 billion – will have been intercepted at the Port of Antwerp this year. This comes after a record-setting 90 tons were seized in 2021.
“There has been something of a bottleneck as there have been so many seizures and also because just one incinerator was in use,” Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne told the outlet. “Moreover, you cannot burn these batches in bulk, in one go, in large quantities as this would cause issues with the filters at the incineration plant.” Only 1,000kg or at most 1,500kg of the drug can be destroyed in a single session, he said.
A representative of FPS Finance, the parent agency of Belgium’s customs service, agreed. “The rapid destruction of confiscated goods is an ongoing challenge,” spokesperson Francis Adyns told local outlet Gazet van Antwerpen. “Due to the technical limitation of the licensed incinerators and environmental standards, we have to use several incinerators.”
While the department managed to secure enough additional capacity to destroy “several tons” more of the illicit substance, putting a dent in what prosecutor Franky de Keyser has called “the mountain of cocaine,” Van Quickenborne told VRT that his agency only learned on Thursday that this was not sufficient.
Additionally, one has to request an appointment to use the incinerator, the minister explained. “The more cocaine you seize, the more time you need. And there is a lot of cocaine.” The location of the incinerators is reportedly kept secret so as not to tempt criminals to raid the facility.
Van Quickenborne said that customs officials are negotiating with Environment Minister Zuhal Demir, who oversees the incinerators, adding that the talks are “going well.” Demir’s office has reached out to the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM), which is also looking for additional incineration capacity, a spokesperson told VRT.
Customs discovered nearly eight tons of cocaine in a single container in the Port of Antwerp last month. The drugs, valued at over €200 million, were hidden in a shipment of bananas from Ecuador. Authorities allowed the delivery to continue to its final destination in the Netherlands, leading to the arrest of four people.
The port of Antwerp was the site of Belgium’s largest-ever cocaine bust in 2020, when five containers of scrap metal from Guyana were found to be concealing 11.5 tons of cocaine valued at €900 million. Police and port officials were among those arrested.
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