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09PRETORIA129 2009-01-22 15:08:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Pretoria
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1. (SBU) Summary. South African Airways has launched a probe into
the arrest of South African Airways crew members in London on
suspicion of drug trafficking on January 20. The fifteen-member SAA
crew, including three pilots, who were arrested in London and
detained for 24 hours, has been released on bail until March 23.
British and South African law enforcement units are investigating
whether proper security checks occurred prior to departure in South
Africa. End Summary.

2. (SBU) The crew of SAA Flight Number 234 were arrested at Heathrow
International Airport after 50 kilograms of cannabis with an
estimated value of R2.1 million ($210,000) and four kilogram of
cocaine with an estimated value of $208,000 were found in three of
their bags on January 20. The UK Border Agency said in a statement
that the drugs were discovered in three pieces of baggage that had
arrived on the SAA flight from Johannesburg. UK Revenue and Customs
Spokesperson Bob Geiger told the British press that all 15 crew
members were detained for questioning and released after about 24
hours on unconditional bail while investigations continue, including
forensic tests on the three bags.

3. (SBU) SAA Head of Corporate Affairs Robyn Chalmers told the media
that, "SAA is taking this matter extremely seriously and has
launched a full investigation, together with the South African
Police Service (SAPS) Crime Intelligence Unit, to establish how the
illegal substances were taken on board." SAA crew luggage is
supposed to undergo a thorough screening procedure at a designated
crew center prior to departure. However, the question of whether
SAA or a security company conducted the required pre-departure
checks remains unanswered. Chalmers said the crew members would be
monitored by Interpol while in South Africa. SAA regards the matter
as extremely serious, and an intensive probe by the Crime
Intelligence Unit is under way, she emphasized.

4. (SBU) Geiger said all 15 had been ordered to present themselves
to the Heathrow police station on March 23. Failure to appear could
result in a warrant for their arrest and extradition to the UK.
SAPS Crime Intelligence spokesperson Senior Superintendent Tummi
Golding said both South African and British police are trying to
ascertain how the bags got through security checks at OR Tambo
International Airport in Johannesburg.