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Busted: Drug Ring Used Unwitting Passengers’ Luggage Tags to Smuggle Cocaine

Brazilian ring copied luggage labels of flyers to transport illicit goods by air.

An elaborate drug ring that used flyers as unwilling drug carriers was grounded by Brazilian authorities after 27 arrests including airline workers, airport cargo handling staff and at least one government official. The Guardian reports that the busts were centered on Rio de Janeiro International Airport (GIG), where the scheme to send drugs abroad originated.

According to police, the investigation began in February 2017 when an unclaimed suitcase with a Brazilian destination tag was discovered in Amsterdam. When the bag was returned, an X-ray revealed nearly 80 pounds of cocaine inside. The luggage tag claimed the luggage allegedly belonged to an older traveler bound for Brazil, but how it ended up in The Netherlands was a mystery.

Through the course of their work, police discovered the drugs originated from a warehouse in Rio de Janeiro. Workers would pack suitcases full of drugs and hand the luggage off to taxis, which drove the luggage to the airport. Once there, airline workers duplicated luggage tags of domestic travelers to get the parcels into the secure zone before intercepting them to be packed on international flights. It is unknown how many suitcases were sent around the world before the ring was busted.

“The criminal scheme used innocent passengers,” Wagner Menezes of Brazil’s federal police told The Guardian. “This was very worrying.”

Among the 27 arrested were airline employees, airport workers and an official in the Brazilian tax office. The arrests also included individuals in two other groups: one that stole mini liquor bottles from parked commercial aircraft, as well as one that attempted to sneak electronics past customs to avoid import taxes.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

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