Customs officers intercept illicit drugs, weapons, ivory, currency and cigarettes during a global enforcement operation

19 December 2013

Brussels, 19 December 2013

Press Release

A global enforcement operation targeting drug smuggling, organized by the World Customs Organization (WCO) in close co-operation with Japan Customs and financed by the Customs Co-operation Fund/Japan (CCF), resulted in the seizure by Customs officers of 2.8 metric tons of narcotics with a market value of approximately 70 million euro and in the arrest of 100 suspected traffickers.

Operation WESTERLIES 2 aimed to combat trafficking in methamphetamine by air from Africa to Asia, via Europe and the Middle East, using heightened Customs controls on passengers departing from, in transit via and arriving at international airports known for being located on routes used by drug smugglers and members of organized crime syndicates.

From 6 to 15 December 2013, some 75 Customs administrations and 10 WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs) participated in Operation WESTERLIES 2, whose Operational Co-ordination Unit (OCU) was located at WCO headquarters for the duration of the Operation.

Of the more than 100 seizures made by forewarned Customs officers in the selected airports, the illicit drugs haul totalled 2,850 kg of narcotic drugs, including 2,450 kg of cannabis products (herb and resin), 132 kg of methamphetamine and amphetamine as well as 63 kg of cocaine, 19 kg of heroin and 85 kg of khat with an estimated street value of 70 million euro.

Bonus seizures made by Customs officers included 234 kg of elephant ivory (rough or worked), 8 rhinoceros horns (worth 500,000 US dollars (USD) on the illicit market), 90 kg of pangolin scales as well as 150 dried seahorses, the trade in all these products being covered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

As it is often the case in this type of operation, Customs officers also managed to seize undeclared currency (USD 1,326,000 and 588,000 euro), gold bars (16 gold bars concealed in an aircraft’s washrooms), as well as 46 long guns and handguns.

The use of CENcomm, the WCO’s secure and encrypted communication tool to share operational information and intelligence, contributed significantly to the success of the Operation.

The WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya, said that “Operation WESTERLIES 2 has shown that 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 forms a key component of all WCO enforcement operations.  As part of Operation WESTERLIES 2, a train-the-trainer session was held at the Regional Training Centre (RTC) in Ouagadougou for African countries wishing to take part in the Operation.  At this end of this training session, drug detection kits were issued to all the selected airports.

Commenting further, Secretary General Mikuriya said, “I am really pleased that the WCO 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 2 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 assessed and analysed 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 and analyses are continuing.