Pushers turn to mail system to traffick their drugs

DRUG exporters are turning to the postal system in a bid to get illicit drugs into Australia.
And border authorities admit they face a challenge to detect the substances amid the estimated 160 million pieces of mail to be sent into the nation this year.
The Courier-Mail has learnt that drug dealers are sending small parcels through the post, fully expecting to lose some to border authorities but expecting they will get enough through to make a profit. Ecstasy traffickers were keeping parcels to between 300 grams and 500 grams and were increasingly sending through MDMA powder because it was more difficult to detect than pills.
Australian Customs national intelligence manager Andrew Rice said MDMA or ecstasy detections in the post were rising, with more than two every week in the past financial year. “The detections in the post are going up in their sheer number, not necessarily in weight,” Mr Rice said. ‚ÄúThere is no pretence from us that we do miss things just because of the volumes. Even in that environment of mass input, we do quite well in terms of significant proportion of drugs being sent through the postal system. But we do see criminals moving between different importation methods and the significant shipments are still likely to be attempted by sea cargo.”
Australia is obliged under a United Nations charter to accept mail from across the world. This year, Customs expects 120 million letters and 40 million parcels to be sent from overseas to the checking points in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
Mail is screened by Customs or the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, through the likes of sniffer dog patrols and X-rays, before being handed to Australia Post for distribution. “We think about every item of mail. Some items are given different treatment based on the different risks that we assess,” Mr Rice said.
The figures for ecstasy busts in the last three years have been distorted by the monster find of 4.4 tonnes or 15 million pills in a shipping container in Melbourne in June 2007. The container, sent from Italy, was stacked with tinned tomatoes but Customs authorities were suspicious when X-rays revealed inconsistencies in the tins’ contents. Customs alerted the Australian Federal Police, which decided to seek more information by following the drugs. They opened each tin and replaced the ecstasy with harmless tablets and then followed the trail. An investigation lasting more than a year, involving 400 AFP agents and 20,000 hours of surveillance, resulted in 20 arrests.
In the last financial year, Customs detected 172kg of MDMA/ecstasy and a further 260kg of amphetamine-type stimulants among mail and cargo. This compares with 611kg of cocaine, 72kg of heroin and 49kg of cannabis.
Customs also made large detections of precursor chemicals to methamphetamines, including 105kg of pseudoephedrine in air cargo 18 months ago.
Mr Rice said the criminal networks that controlled much of the world’s illicit drug trade had “access to specialist knowledge around the import and export fields”. “The game is all about concealment,” he said.
Source: www.couriermail.com.au 31st March 2009

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