[WATCH] €123 million worth of illegal drugs busted at Freeport since 2018

Customs boss Joe Chetcuti says the Malta Freeport is having the biggest success amongst its Mediterranean counterparts in detecting narcotics

Container scanning equipment at the Freeport has proved very successful in curbing the transit of drugs through Malta
Container scanning equipment at the Freeport has proved very successful in curbing the transit of drugs through Malta
Customs director outlines efforts to fight drug trafficking

Following the investment in new drug scanning technology at Malta Freeport in January last year, a total of €123 million worth of illicit drugs have been seized at the port, customs director general Joe Chetcuti said.

Chetcuti said these involved various hauls over the period of little more than a year, consisting in a total of 16 tonnes of cannabis worth €28.3 million and 632kg of cocaine with a street value of €95.1 million.

The customs boss was speaking at a press conference at the Freeport, following the discovery by customs officials yesterday of 288kg of cocaine, worth €32.4 million - the second largest cocaine bust ever in Malta - which was concealed in four containers.

Ministers Edward Scicluna (centre) and Konrad Mizzi (right) are seen with customs boss Joe Chetcuti to show appreciation for the law enforcement agency's efforts to stop drug trafficking
Ministers Edward Scicluna (centre) and Konrad Mizzi (right) are seen with customs boss Joe Chetcuti to show appreciation for the law enforcement agency's efforts to stop drug trafficking

Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi were also at the conference, saying they had come as a show of support from the government for the sterling work being done by customs.

"We are here to show the government's support to the employees and support staff of the Freeport for their success in detecting the drugs," Scicluna said, adding that the success was being noticed by the authorities of both large and small countries.

Echoing Scicluna's statement, Mizzi said that the recent large drug haul was solidifying Malta's reputation as a country which was serious in its battle against the trafficking of drugs.

"We can do such good work if we work as a team - teamwork is the best feature of this country. It enables us to address this big international issue concerning the drug trade, and we are building a reputation that Malta is not to be messed with when it comes to narcotics," he said.

Intelligence and scanner checks

Chetcuti underscored that the recent increase in the number of drug seizures by customs was a combination of information coming from the intelligence service and of container canning by a sophisticated €2.5 million piece of equipment purchased last year.

The scanner is allowing Freeport officials to scan twice the number of containers in half the time it previous took, he said.

"The Freeport is having the biggest level of success in the Mediterranean when it comes to detecting drugs. We have a high level of security," he emphasised.

He explained that, in certain instances, when drugs are detected, they are left on the ship, which is then sent by controlled delivery to its destination country, where the police can then take action against the criminal gangs behind the illicit cargo.

In other cases - such as in the one concerning yesterday's drug haul - this is too risk to do, especially because the shipper would have no clue of the drugs on board, which often disappear during transit. The drugs would be seized in Malta in such a case.

"The ship which got the container yesterday had left soon after dropping off its containers. The container containing the drugs was going to be transferred to another ship which was scheduled to also leave yesterday, so we had to work very quickly," Chetucti said.

He went on to say that, at this stage, there did not appear to be any Maltese links to the drugs in question.

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