Smugglers Caught Submerging Drugs in Wine to Ship Them Across Europe

A tanker truck made monthly deliveries of wine, cocaine, and hash into Italy, according to reports.

A tanker truck sits parked before a wine storage facility
Photo: Lisa Blue / Getty Images

Drug smuggling can be a lucrative, albeit completely illegal, line of work, and innovative criminals are always looking for new ways to skirt the law, disguising their goods with onion rings, corn flakes, carrots, squash, breakfast burritos… Basically, if it's in your kitchen, someone has tried hiding drugs in it.

But a group of European smugglers clearly decided that hiding their wares in food was played out, so they dreamed up an even more elaborate scheme: Transferring drugs across the continent in a tanker full of wine.

After a five-year investigation, this week, Italian authorities raided dozens of properties and made 19 arrests, busting the operation that was taking drugs brought into Spain and transferring them into Italy, according to Wine Searcher.

Though the suspects reportedly used numerous decoys to conceal their contraband, a recurring method was the use of a Piedmontese wine tanker that would make monthly trips to bring back stashes of hash and cocaine from Malaga in Spain. According to the Italian news site La Repubblica, during a December 2017 bust, police found over 1,700 pounds of hash and 6.6 pounds of cocaine in the tanker hidden in submerged hermetically-sealed metal crates, a system which helped hide the smell of the illicit import.

Once in Italy, reports say about a quarter of the drugs made their way to the island of Sardinia while the rest made their way to other regions such as Piedmont, Lombardy, Lazio, and Abruzzo. Meanwhile, The Drinks Business points out that Malaga has recently been highlighted as one of Spain's most active areas for organized crime.

Italian wine itself has been at the center of plenty of illegal schemes, and what isn't clear from reports is the nature of wine held in the tanker and whether it was actually being sold or drank in some capacity or if it was simply used as a front. Piedmont is actually home to some of Italy's best wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco — but from my tasting experience, you wouldn't want a bottle with strong notes of hashish.

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