Customs officials intercept illicit drugs, ivory and currency in global enforcement operation

29 November 2012

Customs officials intercept illicit drugs, ivory and currency in global enforcement operation 

Brussels, 29 November 2012 

Press Release 

A global enforcement operation targeting drugs organized by the World Customs Organization (WCO) in close cooperation with Japan Customs resulted in the seizure by Customs officials of 220 kg of narcotics worth about 15 million euro on the market and the arrest of 39 suspected traffickers.

Operation WESTERLIES aimed to combat trafficking of methamphetamines by air from Africa to Asia, based on heightened Customs controls on departing, in transit and arriving passengers at international airports located on routes known to be used by drug smugglers and organized criminals. 

Held from 16-25 November this year, 82 Customs administrations and nine WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs) participated, actively supported by INTERPOL which formed part of the WESTERLIES Operational Coordination Unit (OCU) located at WCO headquarters for the duration of the Operation.

WESTERLIES specifically targeted methamphetamine manufactured in Africa or being exported there from which was destined for sale in countries in the Asia Pacific region and carried by passengers travelling to the region, more often than not, via international airports in Europe and the Middle East.

Of the more than 50 plus seizures made by alert Customs officials at selected airports across the world, the illicit drugs haul totaled 220 kg of narcotic drugs, including 63 kg of methamphetamines and amphetamines as well as 58 kg of cocaine, with an approximate street value of 15 million euro.

Bonus finds made by Customs officials included 120 kg of elephant ivory (rough or worked), the trade in which is prohibited or regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and undeclared currency (2,400,000 US dollars and 600,000 euro).

The use of CENcomm, the WCO’s secure and encrypted communication tool to share operational information and intelligence, and the possibility to consult international police databases via INTERPOL’s I-24/7 tool contributed significantly to the success of Operation WESTERLIES.

“No country is now spared the scourge of drug trafficking,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. “Operation WESTERLIES has shown that pooling our efforts and expertise in a well-coordinated manner and making best possible use of all available tools delivers noteworthy results,” he added.

Capacity building forms a strong component of all WCO enforcement operations and in the case of Operation WESTERLIES, training sessions were held for participating countries having expressed a need to enhance the skills of their officials and drug detection kits were provided for each of the selected airports.

Commenting further, the Secretary General of the WCO said, “I am really pleased that the WCO global capacity building programme is beginning to show good results, evidenced by, for example, the enthusiastic participation and active contribution of African Customs administrations in the course of the Operation.”

Over and above the seizures made, the key objectives of Operation WESTERLIES were met, namely the identification of individuals and corporate entities implicated in trafficking, and the gathering of information on the status of methamphetamine being trafficked by air.

Information obtained during the Operation will be further evaluated and analyzed in order to update relevant existing risk profiles and targeting criteria used by Customs administrations and other actors involved in combating the illicit drug trade.

Investigations are continuing.

Photo Caption: Team members of the WESTERLIES Operational Coordination Unit surround the Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya.