For the second time this year, a 370-kilo stash of cocaine has been found in a shipping container that originated from South America and was sent to France. This time it was found in a shipment of orange juice sent to a Coca-Cola factory.

 Picture of bottles of Coca Cola. Image: AP.
Picture of bottles of Coca Cola. Image: AP. (TRT World and Agencies)

A massive 370-kilogram stash of cocaine, worth an estimated $56 million, was discovered by French Coca-Cola employees inside a shipment of orange juice from Costa Rica. In March, another 370 kg cache of cocaine was found in a shipping container originating from Colombia. Coca-Cola's relationships with cocaine and Colombia have been less than straightforward.

A spokesman for Coca-Cola France says employees immediately notified police after factory workers found the cocaine stashed in a shipment of orange juice used to make concentrates for various Coca-Cola drinks in the country.

Judicial authorities have opened an investigation.

"You can well imagine the surprise," said a spokesman for Coca-Cola, adding that the workers alerted police and were ruled out as potential suspects.

This latest episode has done little to stop the swell of rumours surrounding the sometimes sordid relationship between Coca-Cola, cocaine, and Columbia, the world's largest producer and exporter of the drug.

Critics of the soft drink company have reminded consumers that cocaine was once a main ingredient in the Coca-Cola recipe. The claim is based on an 1886 recipe, which lasted until 1904. Cocaine was produced from the coca leaf, while caffeine was extracted from the kola nut, thus Coca (cocaine)-Cola (kola-nut).

The public's reaction to Coca-Cola's history with cocaine has at times been amusing.

Coca-Cola gets its main flavouring by working with the only company in America with government authorisation to import and process the coca plant. The Stepan Company in New Jersey obtains coca leaves from various South American countries; and after making the soft drink's signature taste, it extracts cocaine from the spent leaves and sells it to a Mallinckrodt, the only pharmaceutical company in America licensed to purify cocaine for medicinal use.

In contrast, the beverage company's relationship with Colombia has stirred up some controversy.

In 2001, a lawsuit was filed against Coca-Cola in America, alleging the company hired right-wing ‘death squads' in order to intimidate, kidnap, torture, and even kill union leaders in Colombia.

"Coca-Cola denies any connection to any human-rights violation of this type," company spokesman Rafael Fernandez Quiros said from the company's headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia.

"We do not own or operate the plants," added Mr. Quiros.

The lawsuit was later dismissed, but the claims regarding the company's links to paramilitary groups in Colombia never died.

The Coca-Cola company may also face terrorism charges in Colombia, stemming from accusations that it's financing the now-defunct Colombian paramilitary AUC group, a designated terrorist organisation according to the United States, Canada, and the European Union.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies