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article imageEntire S.African Airways crew arrested in UK for drugs

By Adriana Stuijt     Jan 21, 2009 in Crime
The entire fifteen-member crew of a South African Airways flight were arrested at London's Heathrow Airport with 50kg of illegal marijuana in their possession. The state-run airline is South Africa's flag carrier and its largest airline company.
UK police said they also found a bag with cocaine. The mellow South African-grown marijuana -- known as dagga -- is a highly valued drug on the London drugs scene. Also found: 5kg of cocaine.The entire consignment found in the three suitcases had an estimated street value of about R4,5m. It was discovered on South African Airways flight SA 234 from Johannesburg on arrival at 08:00. Questioned were all fifteen members of the flight- and cabin crew. They were released on bail and will have to appear in court in the UK soon.
Bob Gaiger, spokesman for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs at Heathrow, said those arrested were arraigned at a local court, which ordered them to return in March for 'further questioning'.
see"HMRC, together with UKBA (UK Border Agency) was 'playing a vital role in the fight to prevent illegal drugs from entering the UK and in protecting our communities from the violence and corruption that always accompany this hideous trade," said Gaiger.
SAA spokeswoman Robyn Chalmers confirmed from Johannesburg that all crew members on the Johannesburg-London flight had been detained by British customs.
On Thursday, Kempton Park police near the Johannesburg airport also arrested a second South African Airways female cabin crew member in connection with the UK drugs find. The night before, they had arrested a baggage security team member, a woman from Tembisa.
Senior Superintendent Tummi Golding said the woman was arrested after questioning on Thursday. This followed the arrest on Wednesday night of a 43-year-old female security official from Tembisa, near Johannesburg airport. The woman was part of a security team clearing the SAA crew's luggage. The police are also are keen to question the returning crew members who were detained and questioned by UK police.
Kempton Park's police are presenting their first two arrested suspects to the local magistrate's Court on Friday -- and would lodge charges of drug trafficking, violation of the Customs Act and fraud.
The fraud charge related to the issue of a security clearance sticker. Earlier, police claimed that the security guard had confessed.
All 15 crew members were detained by British border police on Tuesday after the dagga and heroine were reportedly found in three items of luggage. During arraignment at the UK court, all fifteen were released on their own recognisance - and ordered to return to London in March for further questioning.
The Airports Company of South Africa's spokesman Solomon Makgale said the two local arrests were made at the SAA head office in Kempton Park - located at Johannesburg airport. Meanwhile South Africa's state-owned national airline has launched an 'urgent review of the current security system' together with the police's crime intelligence unit.
SAA spokeswoman Robyn Chalmers also said that 'any employee arrested and charged would be suspended (with pay) -- in line with the airline's "zero tolerance" approach to criminal activity.
Once found guilty, they would be fired. see
Drug-smuggling is a big problem in South Africa, with many international crime-syndicates using the country's transport- and banking infrastructure as a centre from which to distribute drugs all over the world, and whitewash their drugs-money through the local banking system.
On the same day, at Cape Town airport, two keen-eyed police officers, Sgt Thelejane and Constable Xuba, working in the domestic arrival lounge, caught a Nigerian man who had just landed on a flight with Mango airlines from Johannesburg airport with a consignment of drugs - mandrax and crystal meths. Gangs from Nigeria -- invariably always members of the same tribe -- are often involved in international drug-smuggling operations from South Africa.
They confiscated 20 grams of crystal meths, street value R6 000 and Mandrax tablets valued at R500.
The man, a 30-year-old Nigerian living in the upmarket region of Sir Lowrys Pass north of Cape Town, is in custody at Ravensmead police station, said station spokesman constable J J Geldenhuys.
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