FIVE men have been arrested in Glasgow following the interception of a lorry in Italy that was carrying £3.2 million worth of heroin concealed in a cargo of breadsticks.
The Scottish Crime and Drug and Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) claims it has disrupted a major influx of heroin to Scotland after it requested the assistance of Italian authorities to search the truck as it attempted to leave the Adriatric port of Bari.
A series of raids was ordered in Glasgow following the seizure of 41 kilos of high-purity heroin plus a further 105 kilos of cannabis resin worth an estimated £1m.
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A report is being prepared for the procurator-fiscal following the arrest of five males, aged 29, 30, 33, 27 and 56, in connection with their alleged involvement with the importation of controlled drugs.
The two men who allegedly drove the truck – a 32-year-old Scot and his 42-year-old co-accused – have appeared in court in Italy and have been remanded in custody.
The breadsticks were manufactured in Greece and destined for an address in Lancashire, according to reports in the Italian media.
A video released by Italian police following Monday's seizure shows officers unloading the white packages, wrapped in black plastic, stashed in between boxes of breadsticks.
Gordon Meldrum, director general at the SCDEA, said: "This is a significant haul of drugs that was destined for Scotland's shores. Through working with our Italian colleagues we have put a stop to these drugs causing harm to Scottish communities.
"The SCDEA and Scottish policing have a long reach, and this operation highlights the ability for Scotland to operate far beyond our shores."
Mr Meldrum added: "We have excellent working relationships with our law-enforcement colleagues across the world and this has enabled us to take fast and effective action in this case.
"Drug trafficking is a global business but this operation has shown that Scottish and UK law enforcement continues to be well placed and well equipped to meet this threat head-on."
An estimated 18 to 23 tonnes of heroin are imported to the UK every year, according to the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), with the vast majority of the drug derived from Afghan opium.
Pakistan is considered a major transit country for Afghan opiates, with well-established ethnic and familial links to the UK, Soca said.
The agency added that heroin trafficked via Pakistan to the UK was likely to have either been sent directly by parcel, air courier or maritime container, or been trafficked by sea to eastern or southern Africa for onward movement.
Iran is another important gateway for Afghan opiates, which are trafficked west from Afghanistan, often en route to Turkey and western Europe.
The agency has reported that regional wholesalers of illegal drugs are travelling more frequently to the Continent to secure stock as the distinction between international importers and the UK-based wholesalers become more blurred.
The SCDEA's Italian operation follows the agency's role in last month's successful prosecution of seven men who were bringing heroin into Scotland from England.
Police seized more than 7.5 kilos of the drug, with an estimated street value of £637,000, during a series of connected raids in April 2011.
The seven, from Edinburgh, Fife, Glasgow, Manchester and Rochdale, were jailed for a total of more than 40 years.