Five men, including four from Northern Ireland, have been arrested by the UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) on suspicion of attempting to import cocaine worth £1 million (€1.1).
Officers moved in to arrest the five on Thursday, detaining three in the Essex area and two more in North Wales. As part of the investigation, which was supported by the Garda and the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), three lorries were seized.
The men are suspected of being involved in the importation of cocaine from the continent. Four of those arrested are known to be based in Northern Ireland, while the other man is from the north of England. They are all aged between 21 and 59.
Specialist border force officers were called in to conduct detailed searches of the lorries. The NCA said a “complex concealment” was located in one which was found to contain around 21 kilos of cocaine.
At the same time officers from the NCA and PSNI time carried out searches at a number of properties in Northern Ireland.
The five men were questioned by NCA officers, and have now been released on bail.
NCA regional head of investigations Gerry McLean said it was “a highly significant operation” in terms of targeting organised crime impacting on Northern Ireland.
“In making these seizures we have both prevented a large quantity of drugs from reaching our streets, and denied criminals an important avenue for smuggling,” he said.
Detective superintendent Rachel Shields from the PSNI’s criminal investigation branch said: “Our detectives have been working in collaboration with the NCA in relation to this operation for some time.
“These arrests and seizure are significant in terms of the quantity seized, and in terms of the disruption caused to organised criminals.
“We will continue to work closely with, and support the NCA in their work to disrupt the nefarious activities of organised crime groups.”