The dangerous task of smuggling illicit drugs across borders is not for the faint-hearted.
But those who dare to take the risk often hinge their bets on elaborate smuggling tactics – hiding drugs inside everyday items, dropping packages off aircraft and even swallowing the drugs themselves in a bid to get them through border security.
In this blog we discuss five of the world’s most creative drug smuggling tactics.
1. The Tomato Tin Mafia
Partners in crime Pasquale Barbaro and Saverio Zirilli bit off more than they could chew when they tried to import a whopping 4.4 tonnes (or 15 million pills) of ecstasy – creatively hidden inside hundreds of tins of Italian tomatoes.
Unfortunately, their plan fell apart when the shipping container housing the tins was left unclaimed after making the voyage from Italy to Australia – raising the suspicions of Australian authorities. An X-ray showed ‘image anomalies,’ and Customs officers were shocked to discover millions of ecstasy pills hidden away in the tins.
Police monitoring the communications of Barbaro and Zirilli and other soon discovered they were becoming increasingly anxious about how they would collect the tins. Both men were subsequently arrested and charged with conspiring to traffic a commercial quantity of MDMA, trafficking a commercial quantity of MDMA and attempting to possess a commercial quantity of cocaine for their roles in one of Australia’s biggest ever drug busts.
Both men pleaded guilty to all charges in the Victorian Supreme Court. Barbaro was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 30 years, and Zirilli received 26 years with a non-parole period of 18 years – a sentence confirmed on appeal to the High Court.
2. The Marijuana Cannon
The US-Mexico border is notorious for drug smuggling – with Mexican drug lords happy to put the lives and liberty of smugglers at risk to supply the American market.
The border is famously monitored by US authorities – so it is no surprise that over the years, smugglers have devised elaborate schemes to get their product across the border.
One of the most creative tactics was a ‘marijuana cannon,’ discovered by police in the city of Mexicali in 2013. The plastic cannon was attached to an old ute, and used its engine to generate compressed air – which was used to launch packages of marijuana into the air and across the border into California.
The scheme unravelled when US police reported finding a large number of packages containing up to 13 kilograms of marijuana which had apparently been fired across the border. While it is believed the device belonged to Mexican gangs, no arrests have been made.
3. Woman Smuggles Cocaine in Breasts
Earlier this week, a 24-year-old Colombian woman was arrested in Germany after being caught with 1 kilogram of cocaine hidden inside her breasts.
An examination of the woman after she arrived in the country on the 24th of February revealed she had fresh operation scars under her breasts. The woman admitted to smuggling drugs and went to hospital, where doctors removed two 500 gram, plastic-covered packages of cocaine from her breasts.
It is believed the packages had a street value of 200,000 euros and were intended for sale in Spain. The woman, who remains unnamed, will be charged with drug trafficking – which some feel may be a blessing in disguise given that she could have lost her life had the packages ruptured.
It is not the first time a woman has attempted to conceal drugs in her breasts – in 2015, a Honduran woman was arrested at a Colombian airport after being caught with 1.5 kg of liquid cocaine in her breasts.
4. Mexican Drug Tunnels
Extracting tonnes of soil to create an elaborate tunnel across the US-Mexico border might seem like a lot of effort to smuggle drugs – but it’s a strategy that is commonly employed by Mexican drug cartels.
In fact, TIME Magazine reports that since 2001, over 100 drug tunnels have been unearthed by US authorities – some with entrances leading directly into houses.
Many of the tunnels are even fitted out with sophisticated equipment, including complex lighting, electrical and water systems, and even carts to transport the drugs efficiently.
5. Thai Meth Sculptures
Sometimes, the best plans are the simplest – but not always, as an Iranian man who tried to smuggle $1.6 million worth of crystal methamphetamine into Thailand disguised as artwork discovered.
28-year-old Safi Zadeh Hossein was arrested at Suvarnabhumi International Airport in 2011 after arriving from Syria. Authorities became suspicious of two sculptures being carried by the man – one shaped like a yellow rose and the other resembling a cameo. Upon examination, the sculptures were found to be made entirely out of crystal methamphetamine.
Hossein’s fate remains unclear – but if the plight of the Bali Nine is anything to go by, it is likely that he has an ordeal ahead.