Hidden in a large ocher-colored container, the 1.4 tons of cocaine got past two dozen army checkpoints during a 500-mile journey from the Colombian border to the Venezuelan capital.
The drugs were stored for several days at the Simon Bolivar International Airport outside Caracas, then placed in 31 suitcases with false name-tags and put on an Air France flight to Paris on Sept. 10, 2013.
Ten days later, French police announced the biggest cocaine haul in their history - the shipment was worth about $270 million - after a meticulous operation involving French, British, Spanish and Dutch authorities.
The foreign agents kept Venezuelan authorities in the dark.
"They're not stupid," Mildred Camero, who led Venezuela's anti-drug agency under former socialist leader Hugo Chavez, said recently of the decision to exclude Venezuela from the sting.
"Why would they tell them about the operation knowing that Venezuela's military was involved?" Camero told Reuters.
Dubbed the "narco-maletas" or "drug-suitcases" scandal, it is the most high-profile in a series of cases that illustrate Venezuela's growing role in the global drug trade.
U.S. and other Western officials, plus domestic political opponents, accuse Venezuela's military of colluding with traffickers and allege that President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government is, at the very least, turning a blind eye.
Maduro, who won election last year after Chavez died of cancer, denies that, depicting the claims as a U.S.-led campaign to besmirch Venezuela and pave the way for foreign intervention.
Authorities point to arrests and drugs seizures as evidence they are battling traffickers like never before.
In the last five years, at least 100 military and police officials - albeit mainly low-ranking ones - have been convicted or are in jail awaiting charges of drug-trafficking.
Among 27 people eventually arrested over the Air France case, eight were low-ranking military officers. The rest were airline and airport employees. Their trial is yet to start.
Venezuela's anti-drugs agency says 107 drug bosses, mainly Colombian, have been captured in the last eight years.