I hear running a team these days is pretty costly:
Dakar Rally team founder is held after 1.4 tonnes of cocaine is seized in France
David Oliveras is detained at home in Barcelona as cocaine is found in tyres of one of Epsilon Team's trucks
The owner and co-founder of a Spanish Dakar Rally team is in custody in Madrid after French authorities discovered about 1.4 tonnes of cocaine hidden in a truck belonging to the team on its return from South America.
David Oliveras is the director of the Barcelona-based Epsilon Team, which provides technical assistance and preparation for trucks competing in the Dakar Rally.
Authorities said they had found 1.393 tonnes of cocaine wrapped tightly in plastic and hidden inside the large radial tyres in one of the team's trucks after it arrived on Wednesday at the northern French port of Le Havre. The ship carrying the 8x8 all-terrain truck was loaded with vehicles returning from last month's Dakar rally – a nearly 6,000-mile journey that wound its way through Argentina, Bolivia and Chile before ending in Valparaíso, Chile.
French authorities said that after arriving at the port, the drugs were moved on to a truck bound for Spain. Acting on a tip from Bulgarian authorities, French police stopped the truck at a rest stop on a motorway near Normandy.
The Lille prosecutor Frédéric Fèvre said it was the largest cocaine seizure ever made in France. French police added that this was a "severe blow" to an international drug trafficking ring, and put the estimated street value of the cocaine at €270m.
Two Spanish nationals were arrested by French authorities, who also issued an arrest warrant for Oliveras. He was detained at his home in Barcelona on Saturday.
Oliveras has refused extradition to France, Spanish media reported. Spain's high court must now decide whether it will hand over the 59-year-old to French authorities. Local authorities in Bulgaria also arrested two men in connection with the operation.
Oliveras founded Epsilon Team with two partners after taking part in his first Dakar Rally in 1987, according to the team's website. Last month's rally marked the 27th time the team had participated in the Dakar Rally.
News of the arrests has shocked Spain's close-knit community of Dakar racers, El Periódico reported. "It seems impossible to me that authentic Dakar racers like them would be part of this," the racer Juan Porcar told the Spanish daily. Ever since the rally changed locations to South America, he added, he had worried that racers might be a target for traffickers. "It's certain that the sheer size of the caravan, with more than 400 vehicles, could induce traffickers to think that it is easy to manipulate a vehicle and put the drugs in them, turning the participants into unknowing transporters."
Jordi Juvanteny, a driver for Epsilon in last month's rally, echoed Porcar's concern. It would be "very easy to manipulate and access one of our vehicles", he said. He said that after the race "we left the trucks in a clearing about 15km from the port of Valparaíso and handed over the keys to strangers".