Qatari authorities have a 90% success rate in identifying drug traffickers and customs officials have seized more than 40,000 narcotic pills from passengers at the Doha airport in the first six months of this year.
Up to 75% of the cocaine seized at Doha airport last year came from Brazil, an official at the Customs Department has told local Arabic daily Al Arab.
“We have found out that 85% of the cocaine from the Latin American country was merely transiting through Doha and that it was destined for consumption in African and Asian countries,” Ahmed al-Khayarain, a customs official at the airport, said, adding that Qatari authorities had a 90 % success rate in identifying mules as a result of the close co-ordination with different entities.
“There is a lot of co-operation to help tackle the issue. For instance, we work closely with the employees of Qatar Airways. Those who transport drugs in their stomach refuse to eat or drink and the airline employees on board become suspicious when a passenger on long flights do not eat or drink anything,” he said.
“In 2012, we had 1,580 cases of attempted smuggling.”
He pointed out that narcotic pills and hashish were among the most common drugs seized. There is also cocaine, seized from the luggage of transit passengers as there is no market for such drugs in Qatar.
According to al-Khayarain, customs officers apply necessary procedures on all passengers and do not target passengers from certain destinations. Similarly, they are fighting all types of smuggling, not just drugs. For instance, a strict watch is kept to prevent counterfeit goods entering the country.
They also check evasion of customs charges, especially on tobacco products, which have charges of up to 100%.
Customs inspector Saif al-Kuwari said that most of the mules were from Nigeria and Tanzania.
“They really put their lives at risk by carrying between 40 and 110 pills in their stomachs. They usually receive $5,000 for their dirty work and quite often, the notes are fake,” he said.
Al-Kuwari explained that in case of doubting the behaviour of a certain passenger, the inspector usually would ask him to drink or eat something. “People who carry drugs in their stomachs often look very weak and generally they would refuse to eat or drink anything.”
The inspector said that once a Nigerian mule died at the airport because of this and another smuggler was saved after being admitted to the Hamad Medical Hospital.
He said that there was joint co-operation at the GCC level in tackling smuggling and information was exchanged within the concerned security systems.
Al-Kuwari said the authorities were determined to foil any attempt to smuggle money across the borders.
“Anyone who has more than QR70,000 has to declare it. There is no problem about how much passengers can carry as long as they declare them. Many Libyan merchants carry cash with them as they transit through Doha on their way to China for their shopping because they do not have banks that could transfer money and they pass through Doha and stay for varied periods here. We had instances of passengers having up to $5mn in their suitcases. When people declare the amount they have with them, they contribute to the anti-money laundering fight,” he said.
He said there was an incident of a Qatari citizen carrying two bags, each containing $1mn, and when asked about the contents , he was perplexed and said “normal papers”. Investigations concluded that he had got the money from speculation at the bourse.