The $400,000 tala drug bust and being proactive 

If someone can have the confidence to transit through the Faleolo International Airport with a large cache of illegal drugs, then surely this must be the tip of an iceberg.

We are talking about the 24-year-old Vietnamese woman, who had the audacity to fly into Samoa on Sunday night with that amount of drugs, and had hoped to transit through to American Samoa without being caught.

The Samoa Police Service issued a statement, which was posted on their Facebook page last night, putting the total value of the cocaine and heroin pills at roughly $400,000 tala. 

"Customs Officers referred the matter to police upon suspicion that she was in possession of illicit drugs in the form of pills or tablets. An initial drug test was conducted and the results came out positive for heroin and cocaine. The K9 detector dog was also used to re-confirm the illicit drugs," the Police statement read. 

"The 24-year-old was transiting through Samoa for her final destination to American Samoa. The street value of the confiscated drugs is estimated be worth around $400,000 Samoan tala."

The deadly pills could have been easily mistaken for the normal pain killers that we pick up from the local pharmacy! It is amazing how drug mules – if that is what we can call the Vietnamese national after she was charged – have become more innovative in recent years. 

Samoa’s international gateway appears to have become a target for drug peddlers in recent years. In April last year $60,000 worth of Methamphetamine or “ice” was intercepted at the airport and in April this year an American woman was caught trying to smuggle marijuana into Samoa. 

In March this year the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, raised concerns at the growing presence of ice and warned that Samoa’s borders remain vulnerable to drug smugglers. 

“Our borders have never been so vulnerable until now, especially with American Samoa which is in close proximity and they are battling a drug war.”

The American Samoa government has denied that the American territory is a major source of drugs that are illegally entering Samoa.

American Samoa’s Chief of Customs, Keith Gebauer, says the two Samoas should rather be working together to tackle the problem. 

“We would all be better served working collaboratively towards this common threat to our communities, by sharing critical information and leveraging our limited resources collectively when possible,” he said. 

But the arrival of the Vietnamese national on our shores on Sunday night could perhaps point to a bigger problem and begs a number of questions. How effective are airport security checks in Fiji, American Samoa or even New Zealand? Does Samoa share intelligence with these nations on drug smuggling and the potential players that the authorities should monitor within their jurisdictions? Where did the Vietnamese national pick up the drugs from knowing that her point of origin Singapore has one of the world’s toughest drug laws? And did she pick up the package in Nadi, Fiji when she transited from Singapore?

The concerns expressed by Minister Tialavea early this year and the links between the growing drugs crisis in Pago Pago and incidences in Samoa cannot be ruled out, despite the refusal by American Samoa government officials, to accept that their border control systems continue to be overrun by smugglers.

In February this year, a regional conference in Apia heard that the Pacific is experiencing an increase in human trafficking cases. Most times drug smuggling and human trafficking go hand-in-hand, and our small communities in Samoa and around the region should not be exposed to such danger.

Minister Tialavea indicated early this year of the need to increase funding and resources to the Ministry of Revenue, in order to boost capacity in Samoa’s border security capabilities. 

With the detaining and charging of the Vietnamese national on Sunday night, it is time for the Minister and the Government to revisit this issue and walk the talk. Again the discovery and confiscation of $400,000 tala worth of illegal drugs could only be the tip of the iceberg on the network that exist in Samoa. Work should begin to identify those working behind the scenes to smuggle in drugs and guns.

Have a lovely Tuesday Samoa and God bless.  

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