28 Jun 2023
AFrench fighter jet intercepted a tourist plane over a remote region of France over the weekend, leading the pilot of the small aircraft to throw out more than a dozen bags of suspected drugs, security and air force sources told AFP.
One of France's most modern fighters was sent to check on the single-seated tourist plane over the remote Ardeche region Saturday after it flew through restricted airspace near a nuclear plant and was judged to be maneuvering suspiciously.
As the Rafale fighter jet drew near, the air force pilot "witnessed very erratic behavior in the cockpit (of the tourist plane), real agitation," a military spokesman told AFP.
"Over the course of a few minutes, he saw the door open and packages being thrown out."
The suspected trafficker, a Polish national with a past drugs offense, was arrested after he landed at an airstrip in Lanas in the Ardeche region, the local prosecutor's office said in a statement on Tuesday.
Investigators found around 15 packages on the ground, containing an estimated 66 pounds of a white powder that is being analyzed.
They also found more than 45,000 euros ($49,000) in the cockpit of the Polish-registered plane, as well as in the pilot's bag.
The incident follows the discovery of more than two tons of cocaine on beaches of northern France in March. The next month, U.K. border forces seized more than a ton of cocaine found floating in the English Channel.
Last year, French authorities seized a record 156.7 tons of drugs, according to the interior ministry.
The incident in rural France comes amid a recent flurry of other drug seizures targeting the European market.
Earlier this month, Uruguayan officials said they broke up a drug ring that smuggled cocaine hidden in surfboards bound from South America to Europe. Last month, a police dog sniffed out 3 tons of cocaine hidden in banana shipment in the Italian port of Gioia Tauro.
Global cocaine production has soared to record highs after declining during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report released in March from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Between 2020 and 2021, cocaine production jumped 35%, the sharpest yearly increase since 2016, the report says.