SOFIA Thirty people were arrested in an international police operation to crush a major cocaine smuggling ring, the Bulgarian interior ministry said on Monday.
The arrests of 15 Bulgarians, 12 Italians, one Slovenian, one Romanian and one Georgian have been hailed as a success of cooperation between Bulgarian, Italian, French, Swiss and Spanish authorities.
"The cocaine had been sold in three areas in Italy," Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov told a news conference after the police swoop, dubbed "Cocaine Kingpins".
Italian police said the gang was responsible for smuggling around 40 tonnes of cocaine in Italy per year.
Also arrested was Evelin Banev "Brendo", 47, a man Tsevtanov said was suspected of heading the gang in close cooperation with an Italian organisation.
"An amateur cannot smuggle 40 tonnes of cocaine annually," said Tsvetanov. "It's been done by well-organised representatives of organised crime."
Bulgarian Deputy Chief Prosecutor Galina Toneva said the gang members will be judged in Italy, adding they will most probably be charged with drug trafficking. The arrests were made in both Bulgaria and Italy.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov; Editing by Myra MacDonald)