Customs officers intercept a large quantity of drugs together with weapons, currency, diamonds, cigarettes and CITES products during a global enforcement operation

19 March 2015

Brussels, 19 March 2015

Press Release

During a global enforcement operation targeting drugs, carried out by the World Customs Organization (WCO) in close co-operation with Japanese Customs and financed by the Customs Co-operation Fund/Japan (CCF), Customs officers operating in over 120 international airports seized in excess of 1.5 metric tons of narcotics worth approximately 40 million euro on the illegal market and arrested over 100 suspected traffickers.

The objective of Operation WESTERLIES 3 was to combat trafficking in methamphetamine and other drugs transported by air to Asia from other parts of the world, by means of heightened Customs controls on passengers departing from, in transit via and arriving at international airports known to be located on routes favoured by drug smugglers and members of organized crime syndicates.

From 6 to 15 March 2015, some 105 Customs administrations and nine WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs) participated in Operation WESTERLIES 3. The Operational Co-ordination Unit (OCU) was located at WCO headquarters for the duration of the Operation.

Across more than 125 seizures made by forewarned Customs officers in the selected airports, the illicit drugs haul totalled 1,426 kg of narcotics, including 1,012 kg of psychotropic substances, 227 kg of cocaine, 162 kg of cannabis (herb and resin), 15 kg of methamphetamine, 10 kg of heroin as well as 8 kg of khat, with an estimated street value of 40 million euro.

Customs officers also seized 12 kg of elephant ivory (rough or worked) and pangolin scales, the trade in these products being covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

As was the case in previous operations of this type, Customs officers also managed to seize undeclared currency (350,000 euro or equivalent in foreign currency), 360.000 pieces of cigarettes, 1,700 cut diamonds and two handguns.

Use of the CENcomm, the WCO’s secure and encrypted communication tool, to share operational information and intelligence played a significant role in the Operation’s success. In addition, details of the suspects and individuals arrested were sent to INTERPOL’s criminal records.

The WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, said that "Operation WESTERLIES 3 once again shows that sharing our resources, pooling our efforts and expertise in a
well co-ordinated manner and making best possible use of all available tools delivers noteworthy results".

Capacity building is a crucial factor in all WCO enforcement operations. As part of Operation WESTERLIES 3, a train-the-trainer session for African countries was held in Dakar, at the invitation of Senegalese Customs, while another for South American and Caribbean countries was held in Buenos Aires, at the invitation of Argentine Customs.

Over and above the seizures made, the key objectives of Operation WESTERLIES 3 were met, namely identifying individuals and entities implicated in trafficking, and gathering information on the status of trafficking by air in methamphetamine and other drugs.

Information obtained during the Operation will be assessed and analysed in order to update existing risk profiles and targeting criteria used by Customs administrations and other stakeholders involved in combating illicit drug trafficking.

Investigations and analyses are continuing.

Cover photo : the Deputy Secretary General, Mr. Sergio Mujica, visits the OCU