Drugs are smuggled around the world on a daily basis in a variety of ways, though this has to be one of the more drastic aviation-related drug busts we’ve seen in a while.
Private jet carries 24 suitcases with cocaine
On Wednesday, August 4, 2021, Brazilian federal police seized a Turkish private jet that was carrying 1,304 kilomgrams of cocaine. Here’s what we know so far:
- The plane involved in the incident was a 34-year-old Gulfstream IV, with the registration code TC-GVA; the plane was owned by charter operator ACM Airlines, and back in the day this exact plane used to carry the Turkish prime minister
- The plane flew from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to Malaga, Spain, on August 2, and from Malaga to Fortaleza, Brazil, on August 3 (this was presumably just to position the plane)
- On the morning of August 4 the plane picked up a Spanish national in Fortaleza, who continued with the plane to Ribeirão Preto, Brazil
- From there the plane was supposed to start its journey back across the Atlantic, with the destination being Brussels; the plane was once again traveling through Fortaleza (presumably for refueling), where customs had to be cleared
- During a customs inspection, it was found that the plane had 24 suitcases carrying a total of 1,304 kilograms (~2,875 pounds) of cocaine
- The suitcases allegedly belonged to the Spanish passenger, who was arrested, along with the captain
Perhaps most interesting is the video posted online of the police making this discovery. In the video you can see the captain and passenger being questioned about the bags, before they were opened, and then a test was performed to identify the white substance.
The police interrogated all three Turkish crew members plus the Spanish passenger, and seized the aircraft, cell phones, and documents, for analysis.
While I’m no expert, based on doing some Googling, it looks like a kilogram of cocaine sells for about $15,000 wholesale (and a lot more if broken up and sold in smaller quantities). At the wholesale price, this plane had roughly $20 million worth of cocaine onboard. Wow.
Is there any way the crew didn’t know what was onboard?
In the above video we see the captain acting as if he doesn’t know what’s in the bags. Is he just acting, or did he really not know what was in the suitcases? While I have absolutely no clue the extent to which the charter airline or the pilot were involved or knew what was going on, a couple of things come to mind:
- Certainly on the surface you’d think a trip like this would arouse some suspicions with authorities — you have a single traveler chartering a private jet one-way, traveling with 24 suitcases
- The Gulfstream IV has a maximum payload of 3,400 pounds, and there were nearly 2,900 pounds of cocaine; presumably the captain should have suspected something was up, and should have asked some questions if there were 24 suitcases, each weighing ~120 pounds, using up ~85% of the plane’s maximum payload
So yeah, there’s no way to know how much the captain or airline knew. At an absolute minimum, I think the captain should have suspected something was up, when he’s taking someone on a quick trip to Brazil and they travel with that much luggage.
A representative for ACM Airlines (the charter airline that the plane belongs to) had the following to say:
“The relevant customer and his personal items have no connection whatsoever to our company or flight crew, and the inspection of the passenger’s belongings are completely under the authority of the airport.”
A Turkish Gulfstream IV has been seized in Brazil, after it was caught trying to leave the country with 24 suitcases carrying over 1,300 kilograms of cocaine. The only passenger on the plane was a Spanish national, who was trying to transport the shipment to Brussels.
One has to wonder how much the crew and/or charter operator knew. At an absolute minimum the captain had to suspect something, if he wasn’t explicitly involved in it.
What do you make of this incident?