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Peru anti-drug police say airport insiders smuggled cocaine in swapped out passenger suitcases

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LIMA, Peru - Peru's counter-narcotics police broke up a ring that shipped cocaine from Lima's international airport to Mexico on commercial flights by swapping out unsuspecting passengers' luggage with identical suitcases, their commander announced Thursday.

The passengers' real bags would be put on later flights.

The arrest of eight employees at airport services companies through Wednesday followed the April and May detention of five police officers assigned to the airport, also for alleged cocaine smuggling.

Gen. Vicente Romero told reporters that the latest arrests arose from a tip from Mexican police that led to the discovery last month of a suitcase holding 24 kilos (50 pounds) of cocaine on a LAN flight.

The suspects worked for three different concessionaires at Jorge Chavez airport, including Transber SAC, which loads cargo on planes.

Romero said authorities don't know how long the suitcase-switching ring operated. But he said one suspect had $58,000 in his possession and said he had earned $7,000 per shipment.

Peru in 2012 supplanted Colombia as the world's No. 1 cocaine producer, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

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