July 21, 2005

Police arrest three in Canada-US drug tunnel raid

LANGLEY, British Columbia (Reuters) - Three people have
been arrested after police raided a sophisticated tunnel
intended to smuggle drugs under the U.S.-Canada border between
Vancouver and Seattle, investigators said on Thursday.

The smugglers spent more than a year building the 360-foot
(110-meter) tunnel that ran from a Quonset hut-style storage
building in the rural Aldergrove neighborhood of Langley,
British Columbia, to the living room of a home in Lynden,
Washington, U.S. and Canadian investigators said.

"It was well built, probably one of the most sophisticated
tunnels we've ever seen," said Rod Benson, an agent with the
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "There was a significant
drug trafficking organization that was responsible for the

Video supplied by investigators showed that the inside of
the tunnel was lined with wood supports and concrete reinforced
with steel. The builders had installed a small cart to allow
them to move freight or people from one end to the other.

Investigators said it was the first time a drug smuggling
tunnel had been found on the U.S.-Canada border, although more
than 30 such tunnels have been uncovered on the border between
Mexico and the United States.

Large quantities of potent "B.C. Bud" are smuggled to the
United States each year from British Columbia, where illegal
marijuana growing has been estimated to be a more than C$2
billion-a-year industry ($1.7 billion).

Investigators said that while they believe it had only been
used briefly to smuggle marijuana to the United States, the
tunnel was also likely intended to smuggle illegal immigrants
into the United States and cocaine and guns into Canada.

Police raided the tunnel on Wednesday, arresting three men
from Surrey, British Columbia. They also seized 93 pounds of
marijuana that had been loaded into a vehicle and was being
driven across Washington state.

Francis Devandra Raj, 30, Timothy Woo, 34, and Jonathan
Valenzuela, 27, have been charged with drug smuggling and are
being held in the United States. Investigators said the three
men are well known to police in Canada.

Raj owned the property at the tunnel's Canadian entrance.
The owner of the property on the U.S. side has not been
arrested, but police said they are still investigating.


Neighbors said the builders did a good job hiding their
activities. "I'm kind of a nosy person... and I never seen any
activity to speak of," said Mike Hamm, who lived not far from
Raj's property.

There were unconfirmed reports that an audio tape of
automobile repairs was used to mask the digging work inside the

Canadian border officials were tipped off that something
was being built in late 2003, and later received reports of
wood being delivered to the Aldergrove property and debris
being taken away.

U.S. investigators had secretly entered the Lyndon house on
July 2, and installed monitoring equipment. A reporter said it
appeared the builders had constructed a substantial storage
space under the house.

The international boundary in the area of the tunnel is
marked by a small ditch that runs between parallel Canadian and
U.S. roads. American officials monitor the area with
remote-controlled cameras.

($1=$1.22 Canadian)