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Where there's a way, drugs will be inside
date: 31-January-2005
source : STUFF.CO
country: NEW ZEALAND
keyword: CIVIL RIGHTS , POLICE ABUSE , PROHIBITION , STEREOTYPE
 
editorial comment editorial comment
Don't worry Mr. Williamson, the world expects nothing from you neither. Hope your gun makes you feel like a real man!

Customs officers are facing a flood of cunning, dangerous and downright whacky drug-smuggling methods as drug imports rise to unprecedented levels. Haydon Dewes reports.


Think of a cavity, any cavity chances are traffickers have tried stuffing it with drugs. Sealed hand-cleaner tins filled with cannabis oil, taro carefully hollowed out and the flesh replaced with cocaine, sofas filled with ecstasy, and liquid crystal methamphetamine suspended within lava lamps are some of the more ingenious ploys recently uncovered by Customs officers here.

After 27 years with New Zealand Customs, drugs investigation manager Simon Williamson says he is still constantly surprised by the dangerous, sad and downright ingenious lengths traffickers will go to to smuggle drugs into the country.

Car-engine gearboxes, plaster casts, babies' prams, soiled nappies, lounge furniture, shoes, moulded suitcases, book covers and fresh fish have all been used as drug receptacles.

"These people will go to extremes and unfortunately they will use anything and anyone, even innocent infants to try to facilitate that."

Some of the more shocking examples from overseas include packing human cadavers with drugs, strapping drugs to babies and children and surgically implanting pouches of drugs under the skin of pets.

Importers have even tried impregnating clothing with cocaine-infused liquid, the plan being to later resoak the clothes to extract the drug.

Mr Williamson said though such tricks were unusual, his investigators had to be prepared for anything.

A common method was swallowing packages wrapped in latex rubber usually condoms which were then retrieved at the destination once nature took its course.

Mr Williamson said seizing the drugs was the "less glamorous" side of customs work, but he scotched the popular belief that officers "snap on the rubber glove" and go fishing for internally concealed drugs.

"No customs officer or police would ever conduct a search of that nature. That would be illegal."

Medical staff do so on their behalf, as long as the individual consents. If not, Customs staff have to wait and let nature take its course. They check a sieve in the toilet bowl.

Under the Misuse of Drugs Amendment Act 1978, warrants can be obtained to detain suspected carriers without arrest for up to 21 days.

He said couriers employing this method were dicing with death. "The volume and purity of the drugs they are carrying internally, if they were to weep or seep, they would be dead."

Customs officers are facing unprecedented flows of illicit drugs across our borders 1705 investigations were launched in the year to July 2004, a 59 per cent leap from the previous year.

The rise in imports has been fuelled by increased domestic demand, especially for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) such as ecstasy, methamphetamine and P.

A Massey University study for New Zealand Police last year showed that one in 10 people aged 18 to 29 had used amphetamines within the previous year.

The value of the illegal ATS trade, about $168 million, had also climbed to match the illegal cannabis market without affecting its sales.

In 2003, a record 266,000 ecstasy tablets were seized, along with 1455gm of heroin, 7060gm of cocaine and 6306 lsd tabs. Incredibly, 830,000 capsules of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine common precursor chemicals for making methamphetamine were nabbed, up three times from the previous year.

Figures for 2004 have not been finalised, but they are expected to be even higher. Mr Williamson says the bad news is that imports are likely to increase even further. "It's very important to realise there is a high demand here...for crystal methamphetamine (P) in particular and other amphetamine-type stimulants. There is a very high demand and that is fuelling the attention of the supply networks, these conglomerate trafficking networks."

Sharing intelligence with overseas Customs agencies has become imperative, as has the use of new technology, as transnational groups increasingly use cunning ploys simultaneously across several borders.

"That's the invigorating part of the job, you're always learning. To think otherwise would be very dangerous."

The Asia-Pacific regional intelligence liaison office based in China collects intelligence from Customs agencies and produces a monthly in-depth analysis of drug trafficking routes and methods.

Mr Williamson admits that despite their best efforts, Customs officers seize only 20 to 30 per cent of imported drugs, but he still believes every dog has his, or her, day.

"Sooner or later you're going to be caught and the severity of offending is extreme. Don't start crying when you get caught. Don't expect any mercy."

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