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Sunday, 3 May, 1998, 00:45 GMT 01:45 UK
Cocaine ring cracked
A major cocaine smuggling network has been broken after the arrest of 23 people in France and Spain.

The network is said to have imported cocaine by ship from Colombia and Venezuela for sale in France and northern Europe.

The arrests follow reports that Colombian drugs cartels are preparing to flood France with cocaine in the run-up to the World Cup.

Marseille police said several of the 19 suspects held in France were influential members of the underworld in Marseille and Lyon.

Spanish and French police arrested three other people in a Madrid hotel as they handed a Mexican man a suitcase containing $500,000.

Police said the money was believed to be part of a $2m payment for a cocaine shipment and France would request all four to be extradited.

Among those detained in France were Jean-Claude Kella, who served 20 years in US prisons as a former member of the "French connection" ring that smuggled drugs to America.

Two of the others were believed to be the bosses of the French Riviera underworld.

Among those held in Madrid was Antoine Cossu, dubbed "Tony the Eel" after he escaped from prisons in France and Spain.

France sentenced Cossu in his absence to life in jail for attempted murder and armed robbery 20 years ago.

In March at the counternarcotics summit in Costa Rica, Colombian police reported that the Colombian mafia was planning to smuggle major drug shipments to France, taking advantage of the World Cup.

It appears the purpose of the Colombian drug traffickers is "to promote" their product, since in Europe and especially France, cocaine is not widely used.

European addicts prefer drugs like heroin, but the drug cartels want to show that a gram of cocaine is cheaper and can be more easily acquired.

This new offensive by the cartels would have the backing of Russian mafia networks that have slowly taken control over the major illicit world markets.

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