Record rise in seizures of cannabis smuggled in post

Customs & Excise report 10-fold increase with most from South Africa and Spain

Cannabis was discovered in  postal  sorting centres  640 times last year

Cannabis was discovered in postal sorting centres 640 times last year

 

The number of cannabis seizures being made in the Republic’s postal service has reach record levels.

Customs & Excise officers have seen a near 10-fold increase in seizures in the last five years and, despite that level of growth, seizure numbers almost doubled last year.

The vast majority of seizures involve herbal cannabis being imported into the State via the postal service from Spain and South Africa.

Security sources believe while some of the finds belonged to gangs experimenting with smuggling routes to test how effective searching in the postal system is, most of the finds result from orders for the drug placed online.

A spokesman for the Customs & Revenue source confirmed most parcels of the drug had originated in Spain and South Africa, but said it was difficult to determine the exact circumstance of each package.

However, Garda sources said the darknet and the conventional internet were increasingly becoming sources for drugs and other illegal contraband.

Openly selling

“People are paying for the stuff with their credit card and the drugs are being sent in the post.”

Other sources said while some drug users purchasing so-called recreational drugs online were paying in the virtual currency bitcoin on the secretive darknet, cannabis was available on the internet.

“It is very hard to say exactly how many of the parcels that Customs is finding in the post are people taking a chance and buying cannabis online, but we see from our own experience and international experience that that method is getting more popular,” said one Garda source.

Figures obtained by The Irish Times reveal cannabis was discovered in the postal service – at sorting centres – on 640 occasions last year.

That was more than the previous four years combined and more than a 10-fold increase on the 60 seizures in 2011. There were 286 seizures of the drug in 2014. However, while the number of seizures has increased, so too has the quantity of drugs being seized.

For example, the 60 seizures of cannabis made in the postal system in 2011 totalled 8.7kg of the drug valued at €104,000.

By 2013 the number of seizures reached 217, involving 51kg of the drug valued at €997,000. In 2014 155kg of the drug was found in 286 seizures. The total value of the drugs involved was €3.1 million.

And while there was a sharp increase in the number of seizures last year, to 640, the quantity of cannabis seized was lower than in 2014 – some 123kg valued at €2.44 million.

Skew figures

“If people are buying the drug for personal use, the number of seizures can increase, but the value may be only very small,” said one source.

“And in other years you might get a half-dozen large seizures that will really ramp up the annual total, even though the number of seizures may not have increased by all that much,” the source added.

Last month three parcels of herbal cannabis were found at the Portlaoise mail centre totalling 18kg and valued at €360,000.

The drugs had all been sent from South Africa to an address in Dublin city via Nigeria and were detected by a sniffer dog after routine profiling.

In many cases drugs that have been sent through the postal system are addressed to vacant properties that may have an external mailbox – as is the case with apartment blocks.

The mailboxes can be monitored from a distance and parcels taken from them when those involved are satisfied they are not being monitored.

In some cases Customs officers and the Garda posing as commercial couriers have conducted controlled deliveries of drugs to the addresses they were destined for and made arrests and seized the drugs when they were signed for by the recipient.