Peru combats use of postal service for narco-trafficking

State-of-the-art X-ray machines are used to inspect packages at Serpost’s warehouse in Lima, Peru. (Carmen Alvarado for Infosurhoy.com)

State-of-the-art X-ray machines are used to inspect packages at Serpost’s warehouse in Lima, Peru. (Carmen Alvarado for Infosurhoy.com)

By Carmen Alvarado for Infosurhoy.com – 09/07/2012

LIMA, Peru – Gabriel Rojas Aspilcueta, the general manager for the Peruvian Postal Service (Serpost), said officials have made strides to stop narco-traffickers from mailing narcotics internationally.

Narco-traffickers first started using Serpost to ship narcotics overseas by concealing drugs in packages in 2005, causing the postal service to change the way it inspects items, as more than 5,000 international parcels leave Peru’s 24 departments daily.

The outgoing parcels are sent through three X-ray machines, which help law enforcement and intelligence agents, as well as postal workers, detect whether the packages contain narcotics or narcotics derivatives.

The system, along with major changes in the Serpost workface nationwide in recent years, represents a complete overhaul of Serpost’s counter-narcotics strategy, Rojas Aspilcueta said.

“The first measure to be taken was to purge staff from our facility,” he said. “We detected criminal cells who were working for mafias. Our staff of counter-narcotics agents, which includes police and customs workers, has been completely changed. We’ve also installed cameras at specific points where packages are being handled.”

At Serpost facilities alone, 60 kilograms (132.7 pounds) of cocaine hydrochloride were seized from January to May this year.

The majority of packages containing narcotics were destined for Spain, according to Serpost.

Rojas Aspilcueta attributes the success in the narcotics fight to the hiring of counter-narcotics agents and placing a special prosecutor at Serpost’s main facility, which is on the outskirts of the nation’s capital.

“We work closely with the narcotics police,” he said. “They help us with drug-sniffing dogs that can find a hidden illegal substance in a matter of seconds. We do a test and if it shows up positive, we seize the package. Within a few minutes, the Attorney General’s Office is in action certifying the seizure.”

Meantime, 631 kilograms (1,391 pounds) of narcotics have been found in packages at the Jorge Chávez International Airport in Callao this year, according to the airport’s Counter-Narcotics Department.

One of the more intriguing busts at the airport featured a cookbook. This past April, workers at Talma, a company that assists with the handling of cargo at the airport, alerted officials about a parcel containing a book being shipped to the Netherlands.

The book, titled “La Divina Comida” (The Divine Foods), contained recipes for Peruvian cuisine, but it also held something more valuable inside a plastic bag concealed in the back cover – 98 grams (3.4 ounces) of cocaine alkaloid.

Counter-narcotics agents said it’s becoming common for traffickers, including local mafias, to permeate clothes and blankets with liquefied drugs.

For example, a blanket is submerged in water mixed with cocaine hydrochloride. The blanket absorbs the narcotic. When the blanket reaches its destination, it’s heated in a microwave, allowing the derivative to separate from the evaporated water. The cocaine hydrochloride can be used to produce cocaine.

But narco-traffickers also are stuffing small bags filled with narcotics into jars containing food and natural remedies. Recently workers at the Talma warehouse discovered six kilograms (13.2 pounds) of cocaine alkaloid inside a container of the herb cat’s claw, sent from Madrid, Spain.

“Most surprising has been to see drugs carefully hidden in dehydrated products, crafts and clothing that’s permeated with drugs – in particular, alpaca sweaters,” said an agent with the National Police who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We also recently seized 700 grams (24.7 ounces) of cocaine that we found on 400 pages of bond paper destined for Italy. There has to be more focus on agencies or couriers on a national level, because that’s where the problems start.”

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