Published: Thursday, November 08, 2007
Operation Westbridge tackles the Ghanaian Connection
Two London based teenagers are in the custody of Ghanaian authorities, having been arrested at Accra Airport on 2 November en route for London Gatwick in connection with suspected drug smuggling into the UK.
The 16 and 19-year-old males were arrested under Operation Westbridge after they were caught attempting to transport three to four kilogrammes of cocaine through Kotoka International Airport, Accra onto a London bound flight.
Operation Westbridge is a joint project set by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) in conjunction with the Ghanaian narcotics authorities to catch drug smugglers using Accra airport as a gateway to the UK and other European countries.
It was launched in November 2006 and HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) officers give technical & operational expertise to the Ghanaian government. This includes training in the use of Foreign and Commonwealth Office funded scanning equipment. The scheme is funded by FCO (Global Opportunities Fund), Ministry of Justice and HMRC.
Since November 2006, Westbridge has made 122 interceptions totalling 356kg of cocaine; 2,275kg of cannabis; and 1.3kg of heroin.
This project follows the success of Operation Airbridge, a joint UK/Jamaican initiative to catch drugs couriers with internal concealments of Class A drugs before they board planes from Jamaica.
It proved the value of working in partnership with local law enforcement agencies: during the four years that Operation Airbridge has been running the number of drugs swallowers detected at UK airports from Jamaica has reduced from approximately 1,000 per year to 5 during the last 12 months.
West Africa has been identified in the United Nations Office of Drugs & Crime Annual Drugs Report 2006 and the UK Threat Assessment identifies the region as a staging post for Class A drugs targeted on the UK.
The air courier route from West Africa, either directly to the UK or in transit through other EU airports, is identified as a specific threat.
Operation Airbridge - launched on 1 June 2002 - was agreed between the British and Jamaican governments to co-operate on tackling the large and increasing number of swallowers smuggling cocaine between Jamaica and the UK.
The Ghanaian government requested assistance from the UK to combat drug trafficking from their region.
Tony Walker, HMRC, Head of Operation Westbridge said:
"The use of such young people in smuggling drugs demonstrates the ruthless nature of those criminal gangs involved in the illegal narcotics trade and the misery they cause.
The dedication of UK and Ghanaian drug detection officers has prevented deadly Class A drugs from entering the UK.
Operation Westbridge is proving a great success in preventing harmful drugs hitting the streets of the UK and other European countries.
Westbridge powerfully demonstrates the importance of working closely with other global partners such as Ghana.
This collaboration is helping to protect both countries from the violence and corruption that always accompanies the trade in illegal drugs."
Drugs and crime programme Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Ghana Paves the way again
United Nations Office of Drugs & Crime Annual Drugs Report 2006
A bitter pill to swallow
Related article: Pirates of the Modern Caribbean
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