South African Customs – Recent Illicit Goods Busts

Customs teams from Durban, Cape Town, Gauteng and the Free State recently dealt a blow to non-compliant traders by busting drugs, illicit cigarettes and undeclared fuel.

Customs officers at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) were responsible for several major drug busts over the past couple of weeks, including the following:

  • On 8 February, a female passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was stopped and her luggage scanned, which revealed suspicious images. After searching her luggage, officers discovered packages wrapped in black tape and containing a white powdery substance. The powder was tested and confirmed to be cocaine, valued at approximately ZAR54 284 349. Officers also searched a male passenger arriving on the same flight and discovered three body wraps on his torso, containing a white powdery substance. The contents were tested positive for cocaine, valued at about ZAR9 057 566. On the same day, officers intercepted a male passenger about to board a flight for Hong Kong and searched him. They discovered body wraps on his upper torso containing cocaine valued at about ZAR11 700 000.
  • On 2 February, a male passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was stopped by Customs officers and his luggage searched. After a luggage scan revealed irregular images, officers searched his bags and discovered packages wrapped in black tape containing cocaine, valued at about ZAR5 850 000.
  • On 27 January, in a similar incident to the above, a male passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was arrested after Customs officers discovered a false compartment in his luggage, which contained cocaine valued at about ZAR6 750 000.

In all the above incidents, the suspects and goods were handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.

In the Durban incident, officers became suspicious of two containers of goods arriving on a vessel in the Durban harbour from China.

The containers, which were declared to contain glassware and household goods, were placed for examination at a cargo depot in Durban. 

Upon inspection by Customs officers on 5 February 2020, the containers were found to contain various suspected counterfeit goods, and several cartons with tablets packed in plastic packets.

Members of the Customs detector dog unit reacted positively to the cartons, which were tested and found to contain Methaqualone (Mandrax).

There was a total of 15 cartons, each containing 20 000 Mandrax tablets with a street value of about ZAR24 million. The case has been handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.

In Cape Town, officers were responsible for a massive bust of illicit cigarettes, one of SARS’ key focus areas when it comes to illicit trade (particularly in terms of lost revenue due to the fiscus). 

After receiving an alert from the Compliance Risk and Case Selection team about a possible mis-declaration of a container on a ship arriving in South Africa, a detention notice was issued to the shipping liner and the goods were detained in December 2019.

After following the required legal processes, a Customs Branch Physical Inspection team searched the container at the Cape Town harbour on 20 January 2020.

During the inspection, the team discovered 1050 master cases of “LEGATE” cigarettes, each case containing 50 cartons of 10 packets, with an estimated street value of about ZAR3 150 000.

If the consignment of cigarettes was not detected, the potential loss of revenue would have amounted to about ZAR12 208 350 in Customs & Excise duties and VAT. 

The Western Cape Customs Branch Inspection team has handed over the case to Criminal Investigations from further investigation.

In the Free State, Customs officers dealt a blow to another key area of illicit trade, ie. ghost exports or false declarations of fuel. On 31 January 2020, officers stopped a truck coming from Lesotho through the Ficksburg border post. They had become suspicious of this particular trucking company, as they had recently changed their route to using South Africa as a transit route from Mozambique to Lesotho. 

Officers noticed that the same truck had driven through the border into Lesotho the day before, having declared the truck full with fuel they acquired in Mozambique. The following day it re-entered South Africa, with the driver claiming that the truck was empty (which could indicate a possible ghost export in which they were trying to avoid paying taxes and duties/levies).

They then asked the driver to park the truck at the depot for inspection. However, after the truck was taken to the depot, the truck driver disappeared and the truck company’s lawyer was called to attend an inspection. 

Customs officers then discovered the truck contained 26 000 litres of diesel, with the owners having failed to pay duties and taxes totalling ZAR176 000 due to the fiscus. The truck was detained for further investigation.

And in a similar incident, two trucks were stopped at the Maseru Bridge border post on 4 February for falsely declaring fuel coming from Mozambique to Lesotho. The trucks contained 39 388 litres and 39 414 litres of petroleum respectively. Both were detained for further investigation. 

Source: South African Revenue Service [SARS]

USCBP seizes MSC Gayane with 18 tonnes of cocaine aboard

MSC Gayane

US customs officials seized a container ship financed by JPMorgan this week after authorities found nearly 18 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1.3 billion in the vessel.

The drug bust on the Liberian-flagged MSC Gayane is surprising for several reasons. The sheer quantity of cocaine it was carrying, its links to JPMorgan, its presence in the US, and the recent string of West African drug busts are worth noting.

A container ship financed by JPMorgan was seized by US customs officials this week after authorities found nearly 18 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1.3 billion on the vessel. The drug bust on the MSC Gayane is surprising for several reasons, outlined below.

The roughly 39,500 pounds, or 17.9 metric tons, of cocaine – about the same weight as three African bull elephants – found aboard the MSC Gayane outweighed the total amount of cocaine that passed through West Africa in 2013 and all of the cocaine seized across Africa from 2013 to 2016, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The vast quantity may reflect a supply glut. Global cocaine manufacturing surged by a quarter in 2016 to 1,410 tons, according to the World Drug Report 2018. The production boom is centered in Colombia, where cultivation of the coca plant rose 17% to 171,000 hectares in 2017, according to the UN.

The link between the MSC Gayane and JPMorgan may be the most surprising aspect of the drug bust.

The MSC Gayane is operated by the Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Co., but JPMorgan helped finance MSC’s purchase of the ship. The two reportedly structured the purchase so the ship was owned by client assets in a transportation strategy fund run for JPMorgan’s asset-management arm.

JPMorgan hasn’t yet publicly addressed its association with the vessel, and it has declined to comment to Markets Insider.

The MSC Gayane sailed under the flag of Liberia, a West African country. West Africa is a popular transit route for smugglers between South America and Europe because of its porous borders, weak rule of law, largely unmonitored coastline, and limited infrastructure and resources. The proportion of cocaine seizures in Africa accounted for by West Africa rose to 78% in 2016, “reflecting the rapidly growing importance of West Africa as a transit area,” the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said.

But there appears to be little drug smuggling between West Africa and the US, making the MSC Gayane drug bust highly unusual. Higher street prices and a lower risk of getting caught make Europe a more lucrative and attractive market than the US, the Nigerian drug smuggler Chigbo Umeh told The Guardian in 2015.

While notable, the ship’s flag doesn’t necessarily implicate Liberia.

“A Liberian registered ship is not in itself a link with the West Africa drug economy,” Mark Shaw, the director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, said in an interview with Markets Insider. “Liberia serves as a flag state for much shipping.”

The drug bust on a Liberian-flagged vessel is the latest in a string of major seizures linked to West African countries this year.

In May 2018, Algerian officials seized more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine on a Liberian-registered container ship that was transporting frozen meat from Brazil, according to the BBC. In February of this year, Cape Verde officials found 21,000 pounds of cocaine, with a street value north of $700 million, on a Panamanian-flagged vessel. A month later, authorities in Guinea-Bissau notched their biggest-ever cocaine bust – and the country’s first in a decade – when they discovered more than 1,700 pounds of the drug hidden in a false bottom of a truck loaded with fish.

“There were doubts whether West Africa was still being used as a major transit route, but these seizures seem to suggest that there is a return,” Shaw said in an interview with Bloomberg in March. “It’s a surprise and it’s very significant.”

Source: The article was written by Theron Mohamed, Market Insider, 11 July 2019

Dubai Customs arrests South African carrying cocaine

cocaineDubai customs arrested a woman who was trying to smuggle 2.3 kilograms cocaine in her shorts at Dubai International Airport. Customs officers stopped the 31-year-old South African passenger when she arrived at the airport’s transit terminal.

One of the officers suspected the woman passenger and took her inside a private search room as she seemed perplexed. She was reportedly found to be smuggling 16 pouches of cocaine that were secretly stitched inside her mini-shorts.

The Dubai Court of First Instance convicted the South African of smuggling cocaine in transit and jailed her for 10 years. When she appeared in court, the defendant admitted that she smuggled the substance in her clothes but maintained that she did not know that she carried a banned substance.

She confessed that she agreed to carry the substance for money [the amount was not specified] but did not realize that she was carrying cocaine. The passenger claimed in court that she had intended to take the substance to her homeland and not to Dubai. The court fined her Dh50,000 (US$13, 000) and will be deported after serving her punishment. The defendant was cited confessing to prosecutors that she smuggled the drugs via Dubai in transit. Source: customstoday.com.pk

Port of Antwerp – Customs seize record cocaine haul

Customs Officers at the Belgian Port of Antwerp seized more than eight tons of cocaine hidden in a shipment of bananas originating from Ecuador last week. The cocaine, with a street value of more than US$500 million, were found in a container on Monday in what is the largest drugs haul ever in both Belgium and the Netherlands, and the second largest ever in Europe.

Dutch authorities have made five arrests in connection with the find, with a 46-year old Belgian truck driver and four Dutch citizens currently being questioned by police. Reports also indicate that a 31-year old Customs Officer from Antwerp is suspected to have helped the gang move the drugs out of the Belgian port, where the truck was put under surveillance before being intercepted on the outskirts of Rotterdam.

“The police investigation is now focusing on the final destination for the drugs and the financing,” Dutch News said citing prosecutors. The 20,000 kilos of bananas, which were seized along with the 7,000 packs of cocaine weighing over a kilo each, have been donated to Rotterdam’s Blijdorp Zoo. Source: Porttechnology.com