AN IRISHMAN described as a "drugs mule" died in Venezuela when a stash of cocaine in condoms burst open in his stomach.
Two other Irish nationals who were apparently travelling with him are being held in Caracas following the drugs death on Wednesday.
The dead man was named as Martin "Butch" Beirne, who was linked to a Sligo-based crime family. It is understood the police in the Venezuelan capital found Beirne's body in a hotel in the city. He was in his early 30s and originally from the Athlone area.
One source said he worked for a crime family in Sligo who are behind most of the cocaine trade in the north west.
Another source said he died when cocaine in condoms burst into his stomach.
"This is a big step up for these boys," said one garda source. "We thought they were buying from others in Dublin and not importing drugs themselves."
It's understood the Athlone man became linked to the Sligo gang when he was in prison.
His two associates, in their 20s and from Galway, are expected to appear in court in Caracas today on drugs trafficking offenses.
The Department of Foreign Affairs is providing consular assistance to the man's family.
An official in Mexico has travelled to Venezuela.
Arrests of drug mules are common in Latin America. They usually face up to six years in jail, but if there are no other aggravating factors, and they can be let out on parole in two years.
Peru has been the world’s leading producer of coca leaf, the raw material of cocaine, since beating Colombia in 2009, according to U.N. figures.
Analysts suspect that Peru might also have become the No. 1 producer of cocaine, though no figures are available to prove it.