It all started with a can of pickles and a refrigerator.
Toronto Police Service announced Thursday that it has seized more than $22-million in imported drugs, laid 66 charges and arrested nine people - with warrants issued for three more - in an investigation of a smuggling ring in the Greater Toronto Area.
The investigation, dubbed Project Khiar - khiar being the Farsi word for cucumber - was launched in January 2010 after two shipments of opium, 17.6 kilograms formed in the shape of pickled cucumbers and 98.7 kilograms concealed in the walls of a refrigerator, were seized at the port of Montreal.
Over the next year, police also discovered shipments of opium concealed inside industrial bolts, liquefied into cherry syrup and hidden within the framework of armoires. They also found ephedrine in a shipment of bath towels, originating from India.
The joint investigation with police from Peel and York regions and Canada Border Services Agency focused on drugs coming into the Toronto area originating in Iran. Police have seized approximately 189 kilograms of opium with an estimated street value of $13.2-million and 44 kilograms of ephedrine, which can be used to manufacture 40 kilograms of crystal meth, with an estimated value of $8.8-million.
"The persons responsible for these shipments were part of a sophisticated criminal organization," said Drug Squad Staff Inspector Mario Di Tommaso.
Police have also seized marijuana, 20 diamonds, four luxury vehicles and Canadian currency of an undisclosed value. Shipments were routed in marine containers to various global locations to avoid detection, including but not limited to Turkey, Amsterdam, Paris, Montreal and the GTA, said Staff Inspector Di Tommaso.
The nine arrested are Fardin Ayati-Ghaffari, 47, Saeid Chegini, 27, Mansour Chegini, 50, Naeim Dehghansai Ghahramanlou, 27, and Shahin Azhadi, 38, all of Richmond Hill; and Somayyeh Fathollahi-Ghocheh, 26, Mehrdad Barehi, 40, Mohsen Rouhani Esfahani, 44, and Crystal Lee Eden, 31, all of Toronto.
Three men are still wanted by police: Mohamed Medhi Sajjadi, 41, of no fixed address, Lakhbir Shokar, 46, of no fixed address, and Jamshid Royan, 41, of no fixed address. They face three charges each.