Smugglers of all kinds are moving through airports, keeping authorities around the world on high-alert.
An 81-year-old woman was arrested at Warsaw’s Frederic Chopin Airport in Poland for allegedly smuggling 5 kilos-or 11 lbs- of heroin. Officials claim the amount of the illegal narcotics, valued at an estimated $515,000, was packed in plastic bags inside the Danish octogenarian’s luggage using a false bottom. She was traveling from Africa to Canada. Polish officials found her itinerary to be “suspicious” as she had flown from Malawi to Kenya first, and then to the Qatari capital before landing at Frederic Chopin Airport for a layover. Customs officers also called her behavior “uneasy.”
A spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office in Warsaw has said that the elderly woman has denied any criminality, claiming that she had been given the suitcase by relatives and that as far as she knew, it only contained gifts for other family members in Canada. Officials in Denmark, where the woman is a national, said they are providing “consular assistance” and confirmed that a Danish citizen had been apprehended in Poland. The woman is said to be detained for three months while an investigation is underway. She faces up to 15 years in prison for narcotics possession under Polish Law.
While the age of the woman involved may come as something of a surprise, the smuggling attempt to move drugs so brazenly through international airports isn’t isolated to this instance and happens with travelers of all ages. A multi-agency investigation between California, Florida, and Tennessee found that Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), for instance, been used as a major trafficking post by smugglers for over two years. The Florida Sheriff’s department noted that a bulk of the trafficking is from California to Orlando, Florida, and fourteen warrants have been issued both within the radius of the Orlando International Airport, as well as one in Fresno, CA.
Officials named the investigation “Operation Flying Ice.” ‘Ice’ is a common slang term for methamphetamine, which is most commonly found during drug seizures. Beginning in late 2020 with the seizure of 1 lb of meth and culminating in a wiretap investigation of suspects in early 2022, authorities have caught numerous criminals in the act. The investigation has yielded 85 arrests in total, pulling in 355 felony charges along and 93 misdemeanors. Six of the 85 are alleged to be “ringleaders,” with one of them accused of vehicular manslaughter near Miami, Florida.
As far as search and seizures go, authorities have netted $12.8 million worth of drugs, totally 268 lbs of methamphetamine, 31 lbs of cocaine, 180 pounds of cannabis, 3.4 pounds of MDMA, 68 Xanax pills, and 173 Oxycodone pills. They’ve also taken in firearms and other weapons, including a grenade, bulletproof vests, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, and a motorcycle.
“These folks have been in trouble before,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. “These folks didn’t roll out of Sunday school and decide they’d create a little mischief this week. These are hardcore people, for the most part.”
The trafficking drugs via airplanes has found new life thanks to the pandemic with the Taliban, gang networks in India, using the airports as smuggling posts. Despite the U.S. and U.K. being commonly noted as the largest drug markets in terms of demand, studies show that the market a vast one spanning worldwide.