Drugs. Whether you’re for them or against them, you can’t deny that they’re everywhere and not leaving the world anytime soon. Governments invest billions of dollars to fight their production and distribution, yet dealers around the globe have become so rich, powerful and sophisticated that they’re light years ahead of authorities and usually manage to outwit them. Modes of transportation for these little pills, fine powders and herbs have become so complex that law enforcement probably only discovers a fraction of the drugs that are circulating through our countries’ airports, ports and highways.
Gone are the days of tried and true pouch swallowing by mules: today’s drugs are hidden in the lining of peach cans, woven into chair cushions in freight containers and mixed into liquids to later be extracted. The significant financial pay-off of dealing drugs not only makes people very rich, but contributes to some of the darkest sides of the world’s economy: funding terrorist groups and feeding organizing crime groups’ activities. In fact, Afghanistan is the world’s leading opium supplier and without the funds generated from the sale of it, The Taliban wouldn’t have the capital necessary to operate. While some dealers can operate successfully for decades, most of the big ones eventually get caught. Below, we’ve compiled a list of some of the biggest busts of all time which ended the careers of the world’s most notorious kingpins and cemented them in history forever.
11 4.4 Tons of MDMA Bust - Australia, 2008
In 2008, the Australian Federal police planned a massive ecstasy raid in Melbourne, nabbing the city’s biggest supplier and seizing 4.4 tons of MDMA (15 million pills) worth $309 million. It took the police over a year to complete the process, imprisoning all parties involved from measly dock workers and truck drivers to those that gave the orders from the top. The ring was especially smart about how they transported the drugs, shipping the pills in 3,000 tomato cans imported from Italy. Looks like the rave scene may have been missing their substance of choice a little bit that year.
10 14 Tons Cocaine Bust - Colombia, 1984
After planting tracking devices on Pablo Escobar’s raw materials, the United States’ DEA was able to hunt down and seize 14 tons of cocaine worth over $1 billion smack dab in the prime of the king pin’s career. Escobar was raking in over $1 million per day by supplying the US with 50% of its total supply of cocaine. His massive fleet of transport included helicopters, planes, boats and even a submarine. Most of the product was produced in Tranquilandia, a secret jungle lab which had its own air strips, a personal army and an off the grid water and electricity supply.
9 20 Tons of Cocaine - Panama, 2007
You’d think that drug dealers would have a more elevated intelligence level than most when it comes to protecting the product that garners them so much money. Think again. A group of cocaine smugglers simply loaded a bunch of bales of cocaine weighing 20 tons into cargo containers on a ship in Panama in 2008, letting them lay there in plain sight in the sun. Maybe their plan was to try to hide in plain sight, but the DEA and Coast Guard swiftly seized all of the drugs, marking it as the largest maritime cocaine seizure in history at the time.
8 105 Tons of Marijuana - Mexico, 2010
We wish this were a joke, but amazingly – it’s true. In 2010, a ring of marijuana dealers in Mexico decided to transport their haul in probably the most obvious way possible. They opted for brightly colored cartoon labels, featuring Homer Simpson shouting out “Voy de mojarra, que wey!”, which is Spanish for “I’m going to get high, dude!” Perhaps they figured their ruse would divert police, leading authorities to believe that there was no way a drug dealer would operate so carelessly. The plan backfired against them, allowing the 105 tons of pot to be easily identifiable and marking the occasion as the biggest drug bust in Mexican history.
7 5 Tons of Hashish - Saudi Arabia, 2004
In 2004, Saudi Arabian officials in Riyadh arrested seven Pakistani men and one Saudi Arabian national for attempting to smuggle in five tons of hashish, the Middle East’s drug of choice, to the nation’s capital. Similarly to other drug busts mentioned in our round up, the goods were hiding almost in plain sight in a cargo shipping container. The raid marks the largest in all of Saudi Arabia’s history and put a significant dent in the country’s hashish supply that year. No word on where those men are now, considering that dealing drugs in their nation is often punished with beheading.
6 260 Tons of Hashish - Afghanistan, 2008
Keeping in line with how much the Middle East loves hashish, American forces stumbled across over 260 tons of the stuff in Afghanistan in 2008. Equivalent to the weight of 30 double decker buses and worth over $350 million, the Afghans hid their treasure in a number of trenches and bunkers in the nation’s countryside. Due to the sheer size of the stash they were up against and how heavily guarded it was, the American military decided to go for the most time consuming of options and conduct an airstrike – yes, an airstrike – to eliminate it.
5 $20 Million of Marijuana - Mexico, 2012
It never ceases to amaze us to see how resourceful people can be when it comes to making money. Mexican marijuana dealers took it a step further in 2012 when they decided to build their very own underground railroad to transport their product. So away they dug, creating a 1,800 foot long tunnel between the California–Mexico border to move tons and tons of weed across. The tunnel was complete with a light rail system that efficiently transported the haul between the two countries. After following a suspicious truck to a Tijuana warehouse, police found the entrance to the tunnel and seized $20 million worth of pot.
4 $3 Billion of Heroin - United States (1991)
While most of the drug busts on here involve cocaine or marijuana, you rarely hear of heroin busts happening with such frequency. Maybe its dealers are more talented at evading authorities, but one such shipment of the stuff didn’t enjoy as much luck as its predecessors in 1991. After traveling all the way from Thailand to Taiwan, being stowed away on a ship to the Port of Oakland and hitchhiking to San Francisco, approximately $3 billion worth of heroin was seized by the DEA. The bust marked 5% of the world’s yearly production and represented more of a financial value than the DEA’s entire budget for 2010.
3 $9 Million in Various Drugs - Canada, 2014
In all of our research for this article, Canada was nowhere to be found. While drugs definitely exist in the country, the largest bust there totalled a measly $9 million – a figure that pales in comparison to the rest of the numbers on this list. The stash was a mixture of marijuana, hash and heroin and originated in Vancouver before being transported to Edmonton. The real clincher here is how careless the transporters were – they drove into a commercial shipping zone in a tractor reeking of weed. Nonetheless, the bust was a significant victory for Canadian authorities and prevented over 700,000 doses from being distributed on the streets.
2 14 Tons of Cocaine - Colombia, 2005
Politics in Colombia are bloody, ruthless and unapologetic. The right wingers (AUC) and left wing Marxist revolutionaries are constantly battling one another for power in the country, except for when it comes to drugs. The two parties managed to get along for the sole purpose of pushing cocaine, but sadly their truce was busted when the Colombian police seized 14 tons of cocaine worth $350 million hidden along the Mira River in 2005. The product was owned by the AUC and guarded by the Marxists and represented the most cocaine ever seized at once throughout the world’s history.
1 21 Tons of Cocaine - United States, 1989
Rafael Munoz Talavera was the cocaine lord of the 80s, bringing in the most drug money out of any other dealer in the world. In 1989, his elaborate warehouse in an upscale Californian residential community in the San Gabriel mountains was busted by the DEA and over $13 billion worth of the white powder was seized – marking the occasion as the largest drug bust in history. Amazingly, Talavera managed to escape jail time, yet his warehouse manager and transport workers netted life sentences. While the 21 tons of cocaine was the largest amount ever seized at once in the world, the authorities’ records showed that over 77 tons had moved through the spot in recent months.