Law enforcement officials in Peru last weekend made a different kind of score than the one soccer giant Lionel Messi is used to making when they seized 1,417 kilos of cocaine bearing the FC Barcelona star’s likeness and name.
The cocaine, worth an estimated $85 million on the street, was discovered inside containers of squid filets and destined for Belgium. The shipment was headed to the port area of Callao after making its way overland to the capital of Lima.
Drug trafficking from Peruvian ports is believed to have risen since a new law authorizing the military to shoot down drug-smuggling aircrafts in the jungle was passed in 2015.
"Most of the 1,288 packages of drugs were camouflaged as squid filets and had a label that said 'Messi' along with a picture of the Argentina player Lionel Messi wearing the shirt of the Spanish club Barcelona," a press release from the Peruvian National Police's Anti-drugs Office (Dirandro) stated.
No one has been arrested or detained in connection to the cocaine shipment, but Mexican drug cartels are believed to be involved in the trade, the release said.
"There is no doubt that this is an international organization,” the release stated. “And it is likely that the Mexican Sinaloa cartel is behind this thwarted shipment.”
The Sinaloa Cartel, once headed by imprisoned drug lord Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, is believed to be one of Mexico's most powerful drug trafficking organizations and the cartel with the largest international reach.
Along with the bricks of cocaine bearing Messi’s name, other packages were wrapped in black and featured a logo saying "King" with a likeness of the king of Spain.
The branding of bricks of cocaine is a common technique employed by drug trafficking organizations throughout Latin America in an effort to guarantee the purity of their product and that the packaging has remained sealed.
Peru is the world’s second largest producer of cocaine next to neighboring Colombia and leads the world in coca leaf growing, churning out about 60,000 tons a year. Coca leaf is the base substance from which cocaine is made.
The Messi-branded coke bust is the second major interception by Peruvian anti-drug authorities this year.
In January, Peruvian law enforcement found more than two tons of cocaine hidden in packages of asparagus destined for Amsterdam, and arrested a Serbian man and four Peruvians suspected of running a smuggling operation from a gourmet food business
Two SUVs, $75,000 in cash and a Glock pistol were also seized in the raid on the exporter's property on the outskirts of Lima after intelligence work indicated criminal activity, police and the attorney general's office said in a statement.
Reuters contributed to this report.