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    Lockdown did nothing to stifle drugs trade

    Customs' sideloader scanner can pick out a container and take it off to be scanned. © VRT

    Customs authorities seized a total of 28.865 tonnes of illegal drugs in the first six months of this year – five tonnes more than in the same period in 2019, according to figures from the federal finance ministry.

    While the rest of the country was in lockdown, the drugs dealers were hard at work doing almost one-quarter more business than usual.

    It’s clear that the drugs mafia has not been idle, and wanted to take advantage of the global crisis,” a ministry spokesperson said.

    The news comes as no surprise, though. Customs have seized record quantities of cocaine in the port of Antwerp for seven years in a row – an increase of 660% since 2013. What is surprising is that the trend held even with the world in crisis and lockdowns in many countries other than Belgium.

    But the quantities seized are only a small part of the quantities being traded, which means there is always room for more successes on the side of the customs service. They are now investing in new equipment to increase the chance catching contraband by checking containers.

    With its new ‘sideloader’ scanner, customs can now remove containers from the unloading quays to scan them in two dimensions – horizontally and vertically. According to the ministry, the advantage is that customs are no longer dependent on transporters and logistics companies to deliver containers to the fixed scanners.

    The trend was already clear in April, when customs reported the interception of unusually large shipments of cocaine.

    Between March 27 and 30, we discovered more than 1.6 tonnes of cocaine in three different seizures,” said Francis Adyns of the finance ministry in April. “In addition, it each time involved large quantities, of 300-700 kg a time. That is quite unusual at this time of the year.”

    Normally, he explained, the big catches come in the Christmas and New Year period and in the summer holidays.

    South America remains the predominant source of drugs headed for Antwerp, led by Ecuador (10,700 kg), Brazil (5,214 kg) and Paraguay (4,478 kg), followed by the United States (1,485 kg) and Costa Rica (1,287 kg).

    Alan Hope
    The Brussels Times