The rise in e-commerce has given a boost to drug smuggling via postal packages in Belgium, according to figures from the FPS Finance, Customs and Excise presented on Tuesday.
More than six and a half tonnes of drugs smuggled via postal packages have already been intercepted this year, up from just over two tonnes last year. This has been driven by the increasing popularity and reliance on e-commerce in the country, Belga News Agency reports.
"We had expected the Covid-19 pandemic to cause a decline in this," Kristian Vanderwaeren, Administrator General at the FPS Finance, said.
"But the opposite has proven to be true. The huge increase in e-commerce has catapulted the illegal trade in drugs to new heights."
Belgium's customs services try to not only focus on the massive import of drugs via seaports but also to intercept packages that are posted around the world a daily basis from Zaventem's Brucargo freight airport.
Khat, a leafy green plant containing two main stimulant drugs, accounted for almost 5,000kgs of the drugs intercepted. This is four times greater than in 2020. Meanwhile, seven more times cocaine was intercepted this year.
MDMA cava and ketamine coffee
The smugglers are also getting more and more creative, according to Vanderwaeren.
The drugs are cunningly disguised: XTC concealed in women's shoes, pills hidden among packets of sweets, ketamine in coffee, and liquid MDMA in bottles of cava or wine. With one litre of liquid MDMA, around 6,000 ecstasy pills can be produced.
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Most of these drugs are produced in the Netherlands and are then transported to the rest of the world via Belgian courier services.
A lucrative global trade
"The smugglers send their wares to the places where they can earn the most," Vanderwaeren explained. "For example, for an XTC pill you pay €3 here in Belgium, in Australia or America it costs €30 on the dark web. That's a very lucrative business."
Minister of Finance Vincent Van Peteghem expressed deep concern "that a lot of drugs are leaving our country to go abroad." He stressed the importance of working more closely with parcel companies and courier services to tackle the issue.
"We are looking at ways of cooperating throughout the entire process of sending a parcel so that checks are not only carried out at the end but also during the process," adding that the government will invest in specific scanning equipment.