Latin America & Caribbean

Dogs killed in Mexico-Italy cocaine smuggling operation

Dogue de Bordeaux
Image caption Police says the gang used large breeds such as dogue de Bordeaux to smuggle cocaine into Italy

An Italian judge has ordered 49 suspected Latin American gang members to stand trial for allegedly using dogs to smuggle cocaine into the country.

A vet in Mexico forced large dogs to swallow drug packages before they were flown into Milan, police say.

On arrival, they were killed and dismembered to retrieve the cocaine in a case which has outraged animal rights activists.

The Ecuadorean, Peruvian and Salvadoran nationals will face trial in Italy.

The suspected gang members, between 19 and 37 years old, are thought to be part of youth drug gangs known as "pandillas".

The gangs go under the names Trebol, Neta, Latin King Luzbel and Latin King Chicago, according to the investigative judge Fabrizio D'Arcangelo.

Mr D'Arcangelo told reporters the armed gangs were involved in several crimes in and around Milan.

The drug trafficking operation was first uncovered in March, when 75 suspects were arrested.

Animal rights organisations have reacted angrily at the trafficking scheme.

They say many of the dogs must have died before arriving in Italy, as a small leak of cocaine would have been enough to kill them.

The 49 Latin Americans will stand trial for organised crime and court proceedings have been set for 9 October.

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