Four Argentine retirees who made their way to the Netherlands and India from South America allegedly served as couriers in an international drug-smuggling ring thought headed by five Israelis.

Although the retirees initially failed to arouse the suspicion of border police at airports around the world, the Argentines and all five of the Israelis have been arrested in recent weeks.

An undercover operation lasting more than a year conducted by the Israel police and police departments in other countries found the couriers to have been a lot more than innocents abroad. The four were reportedly caught with large quantities of cocaine and Indian hashish.

The police named of the five alleged ringleaders as Avraham Malachi, 39, of Netanya, a real estate advisor and the ringleader; Samuel Samuel, 48, of Lod, who currently lives in the Netherlands, and allegedly served as the contact person for the Argentines when they arrived in Europe; Moshe Luber, 67, of Netanya, of Argentine origin, and who purportedly recruited the couriers in Argentina; Vitali Hanohiev, 28, of Netanya, who was allegedly the intermediary with the Indian drug dealers; and Asher Zorik, 20, of Netanya.

Chief Inspector Israel Hazan, who headed the investigation, said that the drug smuggling was done over two separate routes, with the cocaine being brought from South America to Holland and the Indian hashish directly from India to the Netherlands.

He reported that the Argentine retirees carried cocaine stuffed into about 2,000 buttons hidden in Peruvian ponchos in their suitcases.

About three weeks ago, after the investigators got a close look at the smuggling routes, three of the couriers were arrested at the Lima, Peru airport, reportedly with about 10 kilograms of cocaine in their possession. A fourth courier was arrested at a hotel near Amsterdam, allegedly with 52 kilograms of Indian hashish.

Following the arrest of the four, the five Israelis suspected of running the drug ring were also detained. Cash in the possession of the five was reportedly seized and a number of their vehicles were impounded by the police.

Under interrogation, most of the Israeli suspects have invoked their right to remain silent, but attorney Moshe Sochami, speaking on behalf of the five, denied that they had any involvement in the case.

The Israel police, in cooperation with Interpol, continue their investigation of the suspects in order to determine if they are behind other drug smuggling activity around the world.