German prosecutors have announced the seizure of cocaine worth €2.6bn (£2.2bn) from several container ships and the arrest of seven people in what they called the biggest ever cocaine find in the country.

Prosecutors in the western city of Düsseldorf said on Monday that they confiscated the 35.5 tonnes of cocaine last year after a tipoff from Colombian authorities. They found 25 tonnes of cocaine at the port in the northern city of Hamburg, another 8 tonnes in the Dutch port of Rotterdam and almost 3 tonnes in Colombia. The drugs were hidden among vegetables and fruit.

The drug seizures had not previously been announced.

Working with Europol in an operation known as OP Plexus, German authorities identified eight main suspects: two Germans, two Turks and others from Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Morocco and Ukraine.

The suspects, aged between 30 and 54, were arrested in recent weeks and are believed to have been behind the smuggling. Their identities were not given, in line with German privacy rules.

Police seized several mobile phones and laptops as well as gold bars, €23,300 in cash and a Porsche car worth about €250,000.

A businessman from the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia set up 100 letterbox companies to make the transports appear legal, they said.

“Specifically, the suspects are accused of organising the transport of 10 sea containers with large quantities of cocaine from Latin America to Europe in the period from April to September 2023 with other as yet unknown accomplices allegedly residing in Turkey via front companies set up for this purpose,” a written statement by prosecutors said.

Tino Ingelmann, head of the customs investigation authorities in Düsseldorf, said the amount of cocaine seized in Germany was growing every year.

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The state justice minister, Benjamin Limbach, praised the huge cocaine seizure at a news conference in the city.

“This is a blow to international organiced criminality,” Limbach said. “It’s a precise punch in the jaw that hurts the drug lords.”