SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — Dominican police joined with forces with other nations in the region to dismantle an international drug-trafficking organization accused of laundering at least $70 million this year, authorities said Thursday.
Twenty-six suspects were initially captured in this Caribbean country earlier this month, the majority of them from Colombia and Venezuela. Nine were released, but a judge this week ruled that the remaining 17 can be detained until trial.
"This is one of the biggest drug-trafficking hits we've had in recent years," General Prosecutor Francisco Dominguez said.
Police in Colombia said in a statement that they, along with authorities in Panama and Venezuela, also worked on the yearlong investigation that led to the arrests.
Authorities said the organization worked for Mexican cartels and stored large amounts of cocaine in the Dominican Republic's southern region that its couriers would then transport in suitcases with secret compartments. The organization branded cocaine packets with the image of a swan, officials said.
Dominguez said the organization had operated since 2009. He said authorities had seized more than $1 million, along with a variety of weapons, more than 20 luxury vehicles and properties valued at $10 million.
Fidel Calcano, director of the National Investigations Department, said his agency is still looking to arrest four more suspects who they believe are in the Dominican Republic.
The announcement came as officials in the Dominican Republic said Thursday that they have seized a record 8.3 tons (7.53 metric tons) of cocaine this year. Authorities said the increase was largely because they have stepped up searches for smuggled drugs aboard speedboats and container ships.
A U.S. drone also has been monitoring waters around the Dominican Republic, said Rolando Rosado, director of the country's National Drug Control Agency.