City Press 19 February 2020

Smuggling drugs through OR Tambo International is easy as pie, says a former policeman with years of experience in airport security.

And it’s all thanks to the help of corrupt police officers and airport personnel.

“Airport personnel are easily paid R1 000 a time to look the other way,” said the former police officer, who did not want to be named.

Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo, national police spokesperson, admitted that “corruption was a concern”, but denied that police were losing the fight against drugs.

According to Naidoo, drug-related crime declined by 28.1% between 2018 and 2019, and other countries have praised South Africa for its successes in this regard. Police have carried out 20 drug raids per month at the airport between January and August last year, and have arrested more than 20 alleged drug mules at OR Tambo.

“South Africa is not necessarily the final destination for these substances.”

The Gauteng police last Saturday seized drugs worth R30 million at OR Tambo. Three drug mules were arrested.

Police officers, airport security and officials of the South African Revenue Service and the Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) reacted to a tip-off.

First a man and a woman travelling from South America were arrested. More than 21kg of cocaine was allegedly found in the woman’s baggage and a further 4kg was taped to the man’s body.

Shortly thereafter, the Hawks arrested a 49-year-old man from Brakpan, who was travelling from São Paulo, Brazil, to Hong Kong.

The former police official, who was involved in fraud investigations, said that everyone from security guards to baggage handlers were part of a network helping to smuggle drugs into the country.

He said officials would remove suitcases in which drugs such as cocaine and tik were smuggled from the baggage conveyor belts in the international arrivals hall and place them on the conveyor belts of domestic flights.

According to the former police officer the heads of drug smuggling syndicates never get their own hands dirty, but have scores of people willing to help them smuggle. The situation worsened considerably when a unit consisting of representatives of Acsa, the police and SAA was disbanded in the early 2000s, he said.

Rapport this week spoke to two former drug mules who were being detained in overseas prisons after being found with drugs in their possession.

Naidoo said that in the 2018 financial year, 98 drug mules were arrested at OR Tambo.

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