Record haul of 'synthetic qat' narcotics seized at Spanish port

Drugs seized 'much more potent' than qat known in Arabian Peninsula and Africa

A woman holds a bundle of qat for sale in a market in Harar, Ethiopia. AFP
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Spanish police made Europe's biggest seizure of substances derived from the qat plant on Wednesday, confiscating more than 3.2 tonnes of synthetic cathinones at Barcelona port.

The seized narcotic is a product derived from the stimulant found in the leaves of the qat plant, which is native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.

"The Guardia Civil has seized the biggest quantity of synthetic cathinones found in Europe to date," police said.

"They seized a total of 3.2 tonnes of this substance, which on the market would fetch €61 million ($65m)."

Images released by the police showed dozens of blue plastic drums used to transport the crystal-like substance, which commonly goes by the name "bath salts".

Qat is a mildly narcotic leaf which is packed into the cheek and slowly chewed, releasing chemicals similar to amphetamines and resulting in a mild high.

It is very popular in Yemen and Horn of Africa countries such as Ethiopia and Somalia.

But its synthetic variants are "more potent than the natural compound and much more dangerous", the Guardia Civil warned.

January 21, 2009 / Abu Dhabi / (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National) Djiboutians gather at a major distribution area of "Khat" where the plant is delivered on a daily basis in Djibouti, January 21, 2009. "Khat" is a plant imported from Ethiopia that many Djiboutians purchase and chew for its alternating affects ranging from an increased energy level to feelings of euphoria. The plants which are sold in small bundles on street corners can be purchased at various prices ranging from $2.00 to $6.00 USD depending on the quality and quantity.  *** Local Caption ***  rjf-0122-KHAT006.jpg

The investigation began at the start of the year after an operation in France uncovered a possible storage site at Barcelona port, where the drugs were shipped out to other countries in Europe.

By falsifying customs certificates and working through three companies, the international ring running the operation was able to move a large quantity of the product, police said.

For now, only one person has been arrested but police are hunting for the others involved.

Updated: June 08, 2022, 10:51 PM