In 2020, 765 cases of drug seizures at airports were reported across Western Europe

  • In total, 6.9 tons of drugs were detected
  • Malta’s 9.58kg seizure from last September used as a case study in the report.

The World Customs Organization (WCO) Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Western Europe (RILO WE) has published the annual review of seizures carried out at airports and in mail centres in the member countries of the Pompidou Group’s Co-operation Group of Drug Control Services at European Airports.

One of Malta Customs drug seizures was featured amongst the Airport seizures for 2020 in the report. In September 13, 2020, following a suspicious irregularity in the scan image of a luggage arriving from Madrid airport, in Spain. The suitcase was emptied from its contents, physically examined thoroughly and a false bottom revealed 3 packages of cocaine, wrapped in silver foil, weighing 9.58 kg. Similarly during the same quarter nearly 14kg of cannabis were intercepted by Customs officials at MIA also arriving from Spain.

In 2020, 765 cases of drug couriers were reported at airports. In total, nearly 6.9 tons of illegal drugs of all kinds were stopped to enter the European market or to be redirected worldwide. Customs at airports carried out 85% on arrival, 13% during transit and 2% on departure.

In nearly 53% of the reported attempts, the drugs were hidden in the courier’s luggage, whether in false bottoms or walls, between carried effects, or in special concealments discovered by X-ray scanning. This was followed by 22% of the seizures in which the drugs were swallowed or stuffed into the body, and in 15% of the cases the drugs were packed on the body or hidden in clothing.

The most common departure countries of drug couriers arrested at European airports, based on number of seizure records, were the Netherland Antilles (21%) , Brazil (12%), Suriname (7%) and Spain (6%), with the Netherlands (35%), Spain (13%) and Ireland (10%) the most frequent destinations.

As in previous years, cocaine seizures still accounted for by far the largest share, at 63%. Couriers tried to smuggle nearly 1.9 tons of cocaine from abroad. However the number of cocaine couriers arrested at airports declined by 49% compared to 2019; and the amount of cocaine carried by couriers declined by 43%. The data showed that more cocaine couriers from Ethiopia were arrested in the final quarter of 2020 than in previous years.

In terms of the total quantity, khat although declining, was again dominant, with 3.8 tons of seized khat was reported in the passengers’ luggage. As in 2019, most of the khat originated from Israel, followed by Kenya.

In 2020, more cannabis was brought into Europe by air passengers (a rise of 21% in terms of number of seizures). In particular, the amount of seized cannabis resin from Spain and Morocco increased by 161%.

Since 2016, the reported total annual amount of heroin intercepted in the passenger channel at airports has decreased steadily. While most couriers carrying heroin departed from South Africa in 2018 and 2019, only one heroin seizure was reported in 2020.

Most of the couriers smuggling heroin came from Belgium airports. In terms of volume, most of the heroin was brought in from Pakistan by couriers. Most of the psychotropic substances (mainly MDMA (ecstasy) followed by methamphetamine) seized at airports were distributed between European countries.

The report also stated that during 2020, even though traffic through the airport was minimal, due to the airport being either closed or travel restricted, six cannabis seizures and two cocaine seizures were made by Malta’s Customs department.