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Customs struggle to identify mules trafficking ingested drugs

Finnish Customs say they have observed an increase in the number of drug runners smuggling illegal substances by ingesting them. The number of female couriers in particular has grown in recent years, while children are also being roped into the illicit trade to throw authorities off the scent.

Pääasiassa kehonsisäisesti huumeita salakuljettavat ovat ammattimaisia huumekuriireja. Image: Tulli

Trafficking drugs by ingesting them or carrying them in body cavities has traditionally been a man’s  job in Finland. However Customs officials have said they’ve observed a growing trend for women to engage in this kind of smuggling.

“In recent years the proportion of women has grown significantly. The idea must be that women won’t be picked out for checks as often,” said Customs anti-crime chief Hannu Sinkkonen.

According to Sinkkonen children are also being used as accomplices in the drug trade.

“Nowadays drug couriers are increasingly women, and they may often have children with them to throw authorities off. We’ve seen cases where these children haven’t necessarily been their own, but they’ve been used as “props”,” Sinkkonen added.

Customs officials say they trend to traffic drugs by ingesting them has been observed at the Helsinki-Vantaa international airport.

“We encounter several of these cases every year. In some years there have been more than twenty cases. We can say that it’s already become a weekly phenomenon,” Sinkkonen added.

Tip of the iceberg

Finnish Customs seize some 3,000 – 4,000 kilograms of drugs annually. Illegal substances trafficked internally account for only a small part of these finds.

“Although drugs smuggled internally in the body represents only a small proportion, it’s still growing continuously,” the anti-crime chief noted.

Up to the year 2000 customs had encountered no more than a few cases of drug swallowers per year. Over the past six years that number has shot up to 55. If authorities include medicinal substances defined as modified or designer drugs and smuggled internally as well as mules who’ve been caught in transit, the number triples, Sinkkonen said.

“Currently the number one substance brought into Finland is cannabis. Heroin on the other hand is generally transshipped to other locations. We have also seen ecstasy and Subutex,” Sinkkonen commented.

According to customs officials mules are generally non-Finns who can be considered professionals in the sense that they have made many trafficking runs. Summertime also sees an increase in the number of younger smugglers.

“They are tourist traffickers, younger folk who happen to bring small amounts of drugs concealed inside the body for festivals or on interrail trips, mostly for personal use,” the customs officer explained.

Only a small number of swallowers are ever caught. Sinkkonen conceded that it’s difficult for authorities to pick out this kind of trafficker from the constant flow of travelers.

“Of course it’s difficult because it’s not always evident externally who’s carrying something internally. In these cases we often resort to profiling passengers in addition to different analytical techniques,” he added.