GARDAI and customs officers have smashed a Nigerian drugs trafficking gang using fake diplomatic bags to smuggle cocaine into the country.
Three suspects were in garda custody last night after detectives from the national drugs unit uncovered a cocaine mixing factory in an apartment in Navan, Co Meath.
Customs officers became suspicious when they spotted a Venezuelan diplomatic bag addressed to a man named as the honorary consul to South Africa and living in a housing estate in Athy, Co Kildare.
The bag was found to be fake and this sparked off a major week-long investigation into the drugs trafficking ring.
The garda national unit combined with customs officers and local detectives from Kildare and Meath to track down those responsible for importing the drugs.
The cocaine parcel was delivered by a courier to the address in Athy and gardai kept watch and waited until it was eventually taken to an apartment at Academy Square, Academy Street, in Navan, on Wednesday night.
Gardai intercepted the parcel in an underground car park of the apartment complex and seized 20 kilos of cocaine that had been concealed in the bag.
The haul has an estimated street value of €1.5m.
The find led officers to an apartment where they seized a further seven kilos of suspected cocaine and a kilo of suspected heroin. Subject to analysis, these have a street value of €500,000.
Gardai also discovered that the apartment, which was not being used for accommodation purposes, had been converted into a cocaine mixing factory and they also seized a number of items, including mixing utensils.
A large haul of sterling notes, worth in excess of £50,000, was also recovered.
Three Nigerian men, aged 31, 34 and 36 years, were arrested and were being held for questioning last night under section 2 of the drugs trafficking legislation at Kells and Finglas garda stations.
They can be detained without charge for up to seven days.
Gardai said last night they believed the operation smashed a significant drug smuggling route although it was not clear if the cocaine had been destined for sale here.
Officers noted that the seizure of such a large sum of sterling notes without any euros indicated that the gang had been planning to move the cocaine, after it had been mixed, to a market in Northern Ireland or in Britain.
Last night inquiries were under way to establish how long the ring had been in operation and to determine if there had been previous importations using a similar scam with a false diplomatic pouch.