Police have broken up a drug-ring that smuggled cocaine hidden in surfboards bound from South America to Europe, Uruguayan officials said on Tuesday.
The capture of the narcotics came after cooperative efforts by anti-drug police in Uruguay, Spain, Portugal and Italy, the officials said.
So far, three Italian citizens have been arrested, two in Portugal and one in Italy, they said.
"Operation Iris is unprecedented in our country because of the scope and significance of international cooperation," National Police Director José Manuel Azambuya said in a conference in which authorities from the other countries participated via video link.
Sniffer dogs from an anti-drug unit in Uruguay signalled something suspicious in a package with the six surfboards on May 23, police said. Cocaine was found in hidden compartments inside the boards.
A total of 90 pounds (40.6 kilogrammes) of cocaine was found in five of the boards, police said. A sixth was allowed to pass through so authorities in Europe could track who was receiving the narcotics.
This type of "camouflage" is not new, although it is certainly new for Uruguay, said Juan Rodríguez, director of investigations for the national police.
Portuguese police arrested two individuals in Lisbon who went to pick up the package, which had transited through Spain, on June 7. The remaining surfboard held about 20 pounds (9.3 kilos) of cocaine, police said.
An Italian citizen who sent the surfboards from Uruguay was arrested in Italy on June 11, and is awaiting extradition to stand trial in Uruguay, a police statement said.
"We are in the process of investigating," Rodríguez said. "We also need what we get from foreign authorities, and we are constantly analysing the intelligence" on this organisation, "which we think is still active.”
Uruguay will continue to coordinate actions with the other nations involved to dismantle criminal groups that operate internationally, "especially in the area of drugs," he added.
Operation Iris "was really an example of international cooperation," the Uruguayan attorney general's spokesman told AFP.
Uruguay, sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, has become in recent years a major transit point for cocaine from Colombia and Peru bound for Europe.