Finance Ministry/Customs: Over 1 tonne of drugs withdrawn from circulation in 2020 Sending narcotics by post still the preferred smuggling method

Khat, cannabis, heroin and cocaine as well as psychotropic and psychoactive substances made up the principal addictive substances seized in 2020 by Austrian customs authorities nationwide. The shipments were handed over by customs to the police for further investigation under the Narcotic Substances Act, which prohibits the import, transit and export of drugs, as well as related offences.

Out of a total of 1 369 kg, 28 198 items and c. 2 litres of various narcotics, the amount of khat alone seized in 2020 totalled around 1 130 kg. For the most part, they were smuggled by air and seized by customs officials at Vienna International Airport in Schwechat.

The 140 kg of cannabis weed discovered by Upper Austrian customs officers in mid October 2020 on the A8 near the Suben border crossing during a semi-trailer inspection took the total amount of cannabis seized in 2020 to around 180 kg.

The amounts impounded suggest that other popular contraband narcotics were heroin, at 15.89 kg, new psychoactive substances (NPS) at 6.8 kg and 4 913 items, other psychotropic substances at 3.42 kg and 8 791 items, 6.68 kg magic mushrooms, and LSD at 5 594 pills and 2.5 g. The range of popular addictive substances in a variety of forms also included 6 840 items and 44.9 g MDMA tablets and 2.7 kg MDMA powder, plus 2.82 kg methamphetamines and 2.6 kg cannabis resin.

Body packer swallows 214 packs of cocaine and heroin

With a total amount of 4.73 kg impounded, cocaine is demonstrably a popular contraband narcotic. Around 1.9 kg of this amount was carried by a body packer picked up as part of a joint inspection with the police at Vienna International Airport in Schwechat in mid September 2020. To transport drugs, drug couriers often also use their own bodies. Body packers take a high risk with this type of smuggling. If a pack breaks open, the smuggler risks their life through a fatal overdose.

As a result of a customs check on a 45-year-old Nigerian national arriving by plane from Brussels, a police drug control followed, involving a hospital CT scan. This clearly revealed that the man had swallowed 214 packs, largely containing cocaine, but also heroin. In total, around 1.9 kg cocaine and 200 g heroin were seized. The police conducted further investigations and the smuggler has since been sentenced to a four-year custodial sentence at the Korneuburg Regional Court.

When it comes to shipping drugs, however, by far the most popular method is smuggling by post. Here, use of the so-called 'dark web ', the hidden part of the internet, is emerging as the main point of transhipment for illegal goods. A remarkable 91.62% of drugs seized in 2020 were sent by post. Around 4.61% entered Austria by air, and 2.04% by road.

Customs officers at Vienna Customs Office, who regularly check packages at the Inzersdorf mail sorting centre using their service dogs, last year confiscated 44.53 kg and 22 403 narcotics items at the sorting centre. Bearing in mind that, in 2020, controls were only possible to a limited extent, particularly during the first hard lockdown in the spring, there has de facto been no decline in drug smuggling by post despite coronavirus. Indeed this is also evidenced by comparative figures from previous years; in 2019, various shipments seized at Inzersdorf mail sorting centre led to the impounding of 73.7 kg and 19 367 narcotics items. In 2018, 41.2 kg and 26 594 items of drugs were seized from postal shipments, which in most cases led to successful police investigations.

In 2020, the favourites among postal recipients were the following:

Cannabis weed at 10.89 kg, magic mushrooms at 6.59 kg, NPS at c. 6 kg and 3 155 items, as well as other psychotropic substances totalling around 2 kg and 6 347 items. Around 2 kg of cocaine, a further 2 kg of MDMA powder and 6 002 MDMA tablets, 6.78 kg and 540 items of amphetamines plus 5 577 items of LSD were also among the most popular substances ordered.

"Through these rigorous controls, our customs officers are taking a firm stand against the steady rise in drug crime by post," affirms Finance Minister Gernot Blümel. "Particularly in this area, the outstanding cooperation with the police, in particular with experts from the Federal Criminal Police Office, is of vital importance. After all, customs seizures often form the basis for further investigations by criminal investigators. In this way, we are joining forces in the fight against drugs," added Blümel, praising the successful cooperation between police agencies and the customs administration in the fight against drug crime. As a result of the increase in drug dealing through the internet and post, from 1 January 2020 the Federal Criminal Police Office set up an independent working group, "AG FLAVUS", of which the customs administration is also a member.

Most shipment recipients in Vienna, Upper Austria and Styria

Accounting for 29.72% of seizures, the majority of recipients of drugs impounded nationwide by customs officers last year were based in Vienna, followed by Upper Austria at 14.95% and Styria at 14.23%, as well as Lower Austria at 11.35%. 9.92% of Austrian recipients are based in Tyrol, followed by Salzburg at 7.23% and Carinthia at 6.79%. The lowest number of recipients is in Vorarlberg, at 3.94%, and in Burgenland, which accounts for 1.88% of total seizures.

Photo album: Customs service dog engaged in drug search

Photo album: Customs and police join forces to focus on intercepting drug dealing