Customs seizes a record haul

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Customs officials made a record number of seizures last year involving drugs, alcohol and cigarettes that were smuggled into Norway. Smuggling remains an enormous challenge, though, and police worry that up to 15 tons of hashish alone still gets into the country every year.

Bjørn Røse, director general of Customs and Excise, could report a record number of smuggling seizures in 2012. PHOTO: Tollvesen

Bjørn Røse, director general of Customs and Excise, could report a record number of smuggling seizures in 2012. PHOTO: Tollvesen

Official seizures amounted to around 100 a day, with a tenth of them containing narcotics, reported newspaper Dagsavisen. Customs seized a total of 500,000 litres of beer, wine and spirits, and more than 10 million cigarettes at border crossings last year, as well as 1,053 kilos of hashish.

“These are not tourists coming back from holiday with a bit too much in their suitcases,” Bjørn Røse, director general of  Tollvesen (Customs and Excise), told news bureau NTB. Instead, he said, he and his colleagues are dealing with organized criminals who make a living from smuggling. He pointed to the example of 11 Polish vehicles recently stopped at the border carrying very large quantities of beer.

Earlier this week, a Norwegian man was killed when he and two other suspected smugglers were surprised by Danish police waiting for them at a small Danish harbour before they tried to ferry 250 kilos of hash over to Norway in a high-speed boat. A gun battle ensued, leaving the 49-year-old man from Arendal dead, two others wounded and his two accomplices in police custody.

The use of small speedboats has increased in recent years and is difficult for police and customs to control, reported newspaper Aftenposten on Wednesday. Monday’s raid after cooperation between Danish and Norwegian police came after months of investigation.

Røse also says there is a worrying new trend to smuggle in smaller quantities, and more often. Influenced by the financial crisis in Europe, it involves both those substances smuggled in boats or vehicles, as well as those carried on the body.  Carriers also dissolve the drugs in oil or other fluids, and swallow them in containers that don’t show up on customs’ x-ray machines. When officials suspect smuggling in these cases, they need to take the potential carrier to hospital for a CT scan.

Another big challenge is the proliferation of new kinds of illegal substances, including synthetic drugs that can be ordered over the Internet. Last year there were around 200 seizures of a fake version of the active ingredient in cannabis, which does not show up on drugs tests.

A change in regulations means that officers no longer need to identify every substance that is smuggled in, but just its effects. Røse welcomes the change, because with more than 40 new substances now appearing every year, identification is a complicated process.

Views and News from Norway/Elizabeth Lindsay

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