RECORD HAUL: The cocaine with a street value of US$100 million was hidden in cans like these.

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CANNED COCAINE

$.6b in drugs hidden in Trinidad Juices tins busted in Virginia

By Joel Julien joel.julien@trinidadexpress.com

FOR the second time in two months a drink produced by local manufacturing company SM Jaleel and Company Ltd has been associated internationally with the illegal drug trade.

In the latest incident, Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officers seized 732 pounds of cocaine, with a street value of over $.6 billion, concealed in cans bearing the labels of Trinidad Orange and Grapefruit Juices at the Port of Norfolk in Virginia, United States, on December 20 last year.

The discovery was made during the inspection of a 20-foot container containing the fruit juices.

The wholesale value of the cocaine is about US$12 million and has a street value of as much as US$100 million, according to Customs officials. 

The seizure is the largest in the history of the Port of Norfolk.

Port officials stated that the container originated from this country and was destined for New York.

The container carrying the drugs was said to be flagged as soon as it left this country.

According to a news report on News Channel 3 in Virginia, Customs and Border Protection Area Port Director Mark Laria said all tools were used to effect the bust.

“We used every tool at our disposal. We have large scale X-ray equipment, we have small scale X-ray equipment, we have probes, we have various tools and technology that were brought to bear on this shipment and it took every bit of it plus the officers’ knowledge and intuition to locate the cocaine in this shipment,” said Laria, according to the report.

No arrests have been made.

Earlier last month, another drink associated with SM Jaleel and Company Ltd laced with cocaine was named in the death of a Royal Navy veteran in the United Kingdom.

A liquid cocaine concoction in a Pear D soft drink bottle was blamed for the death of Joromie Lewis.

Lewis, 32, is said to have consumed the drink on December 5 and succumbed shortly after.

This led to the voluntary recall of all Pear D drinks bearing the code “BB Jan 08 14”.

SM Jaleel and Company yesterday said it has launched an internal investigation into the latest multi-million cocaine bust involving its products.

The company said it is being targeted by cunning criminals.

“It is common knowledge that the criminals involved in the drug trade have been using mechanisms to transport cocaine such as fruit, car parts, lumber, hardware, etc. It now appears that someone may be trying to utilise our company’s product in this regard,” a release on the company’s website stated yesterday.

SM Jaleel and Company Ltd said it has not been contacted by investigators on the issue and only found out about the situation through the media.

“We too have only just been recently informed of the situation that occurred almost a month ago on December 20, 2013, regarding the use of our TJC orange and grapefruit-flavoured juice tins in the smuggling of cocaine into the United States and have, to date, not been contacted by the relevant US authorities in connection with this matter,” the release stated.

“At present, we have no knowledge or evidence of the details other than the press release from the United States. We have already commenced our own internal investigation; however, we are not yet in a position to provide any further details at this time,” it stated.

The company maintained that it has always promoted family values and complied with all laws both locally and internationally.

“SM Jaleel is a family-owned and operated business that began its operations in Trinidad approximately 90 years ago. We have consistently maintained our family values throughout the development of the business to include, in more recent times, the global expansion of our operations through the exportation of our trusted products to various countries and communities around the world,” the release stated.

“We have always taken pride in the high level of quality and standards that we have adhered to for our products and have and will always continue to comply with the various legislations, both locally and internationally, relating to the production and exportation of our products,” it added. 

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