Malta drug bust makes it to top-10 European airport seizures

Almost 10kg of cocaine discovered in the luggage of a passenger arriving in Malta last September is one of 10 cases flagged in the annual review of western European airport seizures by customs officials

One of the drug seizures at Malta International Airport (Photo: Malta Customs)
One of the drug seizures at Malta International Airport (Photo: Malta Customs)


A 10-kg cocaine bust on a passenger arriving at Malta International Airport from Spain last September was one of the top-10 airport seizures in western Europe.

The information comes from the annual review of airport and mail centre seizures compiled by the World Customs Organization’s regional intelligence office for western Europe.

Malta is a member country and the September 2020 drug bust is listed among the top seizures last year.

Customs officials had noted a suspicious irregularity in the scan image of a luggage belonging to a passenger who had arrived from Madrid airport, in Spain.

The suitcase was emptied of its contents and physically examined thoroughly. This led to the discovery of a false bottom revealing three packages of cocaine, wrapped in silver foil weighing 9.58kg.

Malta reported six cannabis and two cocaine seizures.

The report says that in 2020, 765 cases of drug couriers were reported at airports in the region. Nearly 6.9 tonnes of illegal drugs of all kinds were stopped from entering the European market or from being redirected worldwide.

Customs at airports carried out 85% inspections on arrival, 13% during transit and 2% on departure.

False bottoms, swallowed and hidden

In nearly 53% of the reported attempts, the drugs were hidden in the courier's luggage, whether in false bottoms or walls, between carried effects, or in special concealments discovered by X-ray scanning.

This was followed by 22% of the seizures in which the drugs were swallowed or stuffed into the body and in 15% of the cases, the drugs were packed on the body or hidden in clothing.

The most common departure countries of drug couriers arrested at European airports, based on number of seizure records, were the Netherland Antilles (21%), Brazil (12%), Suriname (7%) and Spain (6%), with the Netherlands (35%), Spain (13%) and Ireland (10%) being the most frequent destinations.

Cocaine is king

As in previous years, cocaine seizures still accounted for by far the largest share, at 63%. Couriers tried to smuggle nearly 1.9 tons of cocaine from abroad. However, the number of cocaine couriers arrested at airports declined by 49% compared to 2019; and the amount of cocaine carried by couriers declined by 43%. The data showed that more cocaine couriers from Ethiopia were arrested in the final quarter of 2020 than in previous years.

In terms of the total quantity, although declining, Khat was again dominant, with 3.8 tons of the stimulant drug seized was reported in the passengers' luggage. As of 2019, most of the Khat originated from Israel, followed by Kenya.

In 2020, more cannabis was brought into Europe by air passengers (a rise of 21% in terms of number of seizures). In particular, the amount of seized cannabis resin from Spain and Morocco increased by 161%.

Since 2016, the reported total annual amount of heroin intercepted in the passenger channel at airports has decreased steadily. While most couriers carrying heroin departed from South Africa in 2018 and 2019, only one heroin seizure was reported in 2020.

Most of the couriers smuggling heroin came from Belgian airports. In terms of volume, most of the heroin was brought in from Pakistan by couriers.

Most of the psychotropic substances (mainly MDMA (ecstasy) followed by methamphetamine) seized at airports were distributed between European countries.