Customs officials go bananas! Customs drug haul intercepts drugs hidden inside bananas

The 740 kilos of cocaine seized this month in a Freeport container were not just the most sizeable seizure of drugs ever made by Malta Customs Officials.

According to the Director General of the department, Joseph Chetcuti, this finding Customs registered a number of new achievements, among which, the first time in Malta that a drug was found hidden inside fruit which usually makes cocaine difficult to trace given that both are organic.

Enforcement agencies consider intercepting a drug hidden inside bananas as a huge success. Several reasons make bananas, ideal recipients for traffickers. The Director General stated that for enforcement officers, this is the most difficult product to trace the hidden drugs, even when using the most sophisticated equipment.

“When you take an image using a scan, the scan shows you the figures of the objects that came in and even the components of the materials, whether metals, organic etc. Bananas are organic. Cocaine is also organic. So it will show up as the same colour,” he said.

He added that the crescent shape and the way it is packed in boxes greatly hinders the scans that are taken. The Director General of Customs stated that when officials manage to make a finding like this one it is therefore hugely satisfying. He explained that in this case, the 740 kilos of cocaine was hidden in a small number of banana boxes that were in a single forty-foot container. This was one of a consignment of ten banana containers that landed in Malta on their way from Ecuador to Slovenia.

One container from a consignment of ten containers. So you have 10 forty foot containers. Each container has 1,080 boxes of bananas. So in this case we had 18,000 boxes of bananas and the cocaine was only found in 37 boxes. Many boxes are examined and are fine so you are tempted to give up. “The fact that we have succeeded against these odds has been very satisfying,” said the Director-General of Customs.

Mr Chetcuti pointed out that drug trafficking via merchandise seems to be following a trend where, instead of sending small amounts in several containers, you get a substantial amount in one container. The news centre asked the Director General of Customs what happens to the drugs seized.

“An inquiry is launched with the Magistrate. When the acts of inquiry are closed, the court decides that the drug should be destroyed by burning it, under the instructions of court experts who are pharmacists and forensic experts and the court sees to it that it is destroyed. ”

In the last three and a half years, the value of drugs seized by Customs reached € 290 million, most of it from seizures in the last six months. One third of this amount, € 100 million, is the value of the cocaine seized early last week. Another € 70 million was found in December in a single container containing 612 kilos of cocaine hidden in pallets which were carrying cooking oil.