Pubdate: Sun, 09 Sep 2007
Source: Stabroek News (Guyana)
Copyright: 2007 Stabroek News


- - No Local Arrests Made

Three known cases of cocaine found in passengers'  luggage over the 
last four months support claims by a  top government official and an 
airline official that  airport staff have been colluding with drug 
traffickers  to export the narcotic.

The most recent incident last Wednesday, involved the  mysterious 
removal of a nametag from a suitcase checked  in by a passenger, to a 
small bag containing 1 kilo of  cocaine. Stabroek News understands 
that the bag was  found on a Fort Lauderdale bound Constellation 
Tours aircraft. A source told this newspaper that some  airport staff 
were currently being interviewed in  relation to the incident.

This newspaper understands that the passengers checked  in as normal 
but on making the baggage count a  Securicor security officer 
realized that an extra bag  had been loaded onto the plane. A check 
by security staff revealed that the tag from one of four 
bags  checked in by a passenger who was travelling with 
his  wheelchair-bound daughter, had been removed and placed  on the small bag.

The source said the man and his daughter were taken off  the plane 
and he identified the suitcase without the  tag as theirs. This was 
further confirmed by the  airline's check-in counter clerk, who 
insisted that he  checked in the suitcase and placed the airline's 
tag on  it. This newspaper was further told that 
Customs  Anti-Narcotics Unit (CANU) ranks questioned the man and  he 
was not allowed to travel on the scheduled flight to  cater for 
preliminary investigations but was  subsequently allowed out on a 
flight later that day.

This newspaper understands also that all the Securicor  staffers on 
duty on the said day were questioned and at  least two others were 
still to be questioned. However,  the source pointed out that to date 
no arrests have  been made, positing "someone at the back had to take 
the tag off that man's suitcase and put it on the bag  to get it 
passed because the man's suitcase was checked  and the stub was 
placed on it at the front." This  newspaper was told that no one 
claimed ownership of the  little green bag.

This incident comes a mere month after a cocaine laden  suitcase 
managed to make its way from Guyana,  undetected at the airport here, 
to the JFK  International Airport in New York, on an August 1 
TravelSpan flight. Guyanese Gavin Waaldijk, 23, boarded  the 
TravelSpan flight and on arrival in New York, where  cargo and 
passengers are subject to inspection by US  Customs officials, a 
narcotics-detecting dog alerted  the authorities to a suitcase 
bearing his name.

Customs and Border Patrol authorities found 31  brick-shaped objects, 
identified as cocaine, wrapped in  plastic, which when weighed 
amounted to 35.078  kilogrammes. When the US authorities found 
Waaldijk he  had one piece of carry-on luggage and another suitcase 
with the corresponding tag. He is being held in the US  for 
knowingly, intentionally and unlawfully importing  cocaine into that country.

Following the interception, TravelSpan officials said  in a statement 
that it was clear that there was  collusion among persons working at 
the Cheddi Jagan  International Airport (CJIA), Timehri and drug 
traffickers. Airlines are fined considerable sums and  penalties by 
US authorities when contraband is found on  aircraft arriving in the 
US. However, to date  TravelSpan has not received any such 
notification from  the US authorities.

TravelSpan had said that it continues to be very  concerned about the 
ongoing cocaine trafficking from  Guyana, plaguing the country and 
the aviation industry.  It said that even though it had implemented 
stringent  security measures at the CJIA, including three layers  of 
baggage identification, screening of employees by  three different 
organizations and shrink wrapping of  all passenger baggage before 
boarding, there continued  to be occasional incidents of contraband 
getting onto  its aircraft.

The statement noted that this problem was not unique to  TravelSpan, 
"It is a burden on all of the airlines  serving Guyana," adding that 
"Most major international  airlines refuse to serve CJIA because of 
persistent  drug trafficking." TravelSpan also said "the drug trade 
is a major deterrent to foreign investment and will  eventually 
destroy any opportunity for long-term growth  and economic 
development in Guyana."

In June, CANU ranks at the airport intercepted a  suitcase bound for 
Canada with 6,583 grammes of cocaine  inside. From all appearances, 
persons unknown were  attempting to smuggle the drug out of the 
country by  labelling the suitcase with the name of a passenger who 
was scheduled to leave for Canada. A CANU officer had  told the media 
that on that day a woman in a wheelchair  scheduled to leave on a 
Zoom Airlines flight bound for  Canada checked in with one black 
suitcase. The officer  said an airline official later noticed a brown 
suitcase next to the woman's and on checking discovered that 
the  woman's name was written on it but in a different  handwriting. 
Officials at the airport were alerted and  on checking found six huge 
parcels of cocaine  underneath two bath towels. There was nothing 
else in  the suitcase. The officer told reporters that it  appeared 
that someone had planted the drug-laden  suitcase next to the woman's 
in an attempt to get it  out of the country! . The woman was not arrested.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon,  asked to 
comment on this incident, said he felt some  airport staff were 
collaborating with external forces  to facilitate drug trafficking. 
"I don't have a problem  saying that members of staff are 
collaborating with  external forces and have arrangements to have 
drugs  sent out by air... I think their support extends as far  as 
deliberately disabling surveillance equipment in  place at the 
airport," Luncheon had said.

The real purpose of security cameras at the airport has  also been an 
issue and Commissioner-General of the  Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) 
Khurshid Sattaur had  said that the cameras were set up mainly for 
the GRA's  use. Sattaur had told this newspaper that the GRA had  set 
up the cameras to monitor its operations and that  it could not 
prevent drug trafficking. However, he  said, if an incident occurred, 
the law enforcement  agencies could ask the authority to view the 
tapes to assist with their investigations.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart