Australian police have brought down a network of drug traffickers linked to Spain and other parts of the EU, who were using olive oil to transport illegal drugs.

The investigation, which began 18 months ago, resulted in the seizure of 117 kilograms of MDMA, which is more commonly known as “ecstasy,” by Australian authorities last month. With an estimated street value of 42 million euros, the raid led to the arrest of syndicate suspects from Australia, the UK, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as the seizure of cash. The Australian contingent of the smuggling ring could face life imprisonment and a fine of up to one million dollars

The base chemicals used to make up the drugs are thought to have been hidden in bottles of olive oil from Spain in such a quantity that 1.37 million ecstasy tablets could have been manufactured from the haul. The successful operation to bring down the international network of drug traffickers is seen as a milestone for Australian security forces and their interactions with foreign entities.

While an unsuccessful attempt to import illegal drugs in this instance, it was not the first time olive oil and its vessels had been used as a disguise for drug smuggling. In 2010, a Dutch trafficker was arrested after attempting to drive over the Spanish border to France with a load containing 767 kg of hidden Cannabis. The drugs were hidden in large olive oil drums and appeared at first to be a load of local olive oil.

Reports dating back to the 1930s indicate olive oil barrels have been a common drug-smuggling vessel, with large quantities of heroin reportedly shipped into Europe in tins nailed or soldered to the inside of the barrels. This made it difficult to detect the presence of the drugs without opening the barrel.