[DEBATE] : (Fwd) SAA flighs high to London
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sat Jan 24 07:10:19 GMT 2009
SAA drug bust 'tip of the iceberg'
Security so lax 'it is a joke'
January 24, 2009 Edition 1
Graeme Hosken, Kashiefa Ajam and Solly Maphumulo
AN SAA air stewardess accused of drug smuggling has tried to pay her
co-accused R300 000 to shut up.
Mmatshu Mothlaga, 35, was arrested in Johannesburg on Thursday after the
stunning arrest in London on Tuesday of the entire crew of SAA flight 234.
British customs officials found three crew bags stuffed with 50kg of
dagga and 4kg of cocaine.
On Wednesday, South African detectives arrested Pulane Hlahane, 43, of
Reshebile Aviation and Protection Services, which SAA hired to check its
air crew, after she confessed during questioning.
Hlahane was responsible for the screening of staff at Airways Park,
SAA's operational headquarters next to OR Tambo International Airport.
Yesterday the petrified pair appeared in the Kempton Park Magistrate's
Court to face charges of corruption and fraud.
They covered their heads as they entered the packed court and had to be
ordered to reveal themselves in the dock.
They were remanded in custody. As they were led to the cells, they
covered their heads once more.
Sources in the police's organised crime unit said Mothlaga tried to
bribe Hlahane not to give testimony against her and reveal the SAA
Crime Intelligence spokesman Supt Tummi Golding would not confirm or
deny this. All she would confirm was that police were formulating new
charges against Mothlaga.
As the entire SAA crew prepares to return to a London court in March,
this week's incident has been revealed as the tip of the iceberg.
According to at least three SAA staff who spoke on condition of
anonymity, security at Airport Park, where air crew exit directly onto
the apron at OR Tambo, is "so lax it is a joke".
Yesterday they revealed how contraband from drugs to diamonds is
regularly smuggled on board overseas flights.
"All you do is make sure that you fall in with the right circle of air
crew. Once you make your intentions known someone will soon approach
you," said one.
The foreign-run syndicates always ensure they have their own people on
the ground conducting searches when the air crew's bags containing
contraband were being moved.
"And just to ensure that everything goes smoothly you slip them a few
thousand rands just to make sure that the right labels are put on the
bags," the air hostess said.
HM Revenue and Customs spokesman, Bob Gaiger, said from London yesterday
that British customs officers often busted airline crew members with
drugs in their luggage.
"At Heathrow Airport, the crew have to wait until all passengers have
left the plane before they can leave. They then go through customs
security that is used specifically for crew members. And just like
normal passengers, they are randomly searched."
Gaiger would not say whether UK officials had received a tip-off on Tuesday.
If any of the crew are convicted in Britain, they could face life in
jail for trafficking cocaine and 14 years for dagga.
The Independent on Saturday has learned that SAA has been threatened by
UK authorities that if its crews were found with drugs on their planes,
the staff would be detained and their planes impounded. SAA would also
face huge fines.
Gaiger would not confirm this.
An SAA source said: "There might be eight of the 12 air crew involved in
smuggling drugs on a particular flight, but you would never know it and
you definitely would not know how much was being carried across the
skies," she said.
She said the smuggling of narcotics on airlines was a "roaring" trade
conducted by staff from all airlines across the world with no route left
untapped, especially the "junkie run" from Brazil to South Africa.
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