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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Aug. 10) – The recent seizure of nearly a half-kilo (one pound) of methamphetamine, or ice, with an estimated street value of 37 million French Pacific francs (US$406,593) has broken up a three-year-old drug trafficking ring between California and Tahiti, airport customs officials announced Wednesday.

The ring, which involved a total of six persons, smuggled 2.422 kilograms (5.3 pounds) of "ice" and 2.6 kilos 5.7 (pounds) of cocaine into Tahiti since 2003, customs officials said.

The latest "ice" seizure and arrest of two women on July 13 was not immediately announced because of an on-going investigation into what apparently was an all-female drug trafficking ring, according to information provided by the French Polynesia Customs Department at the Tahiti-Faa'a International Airport.

The drug in crystal form was in several plastic sacks placed inside a plastic wrapping hidden on the body of a 21-year-old woman arriving on a non-stop flight from Los Angeles, a Customs Department communiqué stated. The woman had tried to go through the airport's "nothing to declare" exit from the baggage claim area, but a customs officer stopped her and checked her baggage.

Although the baggage check turned up nothing, the woman's unusual nervousness prompted customs officers to make a body check, which discovered the drug, the communiqué stated.

Under questioning, the woman admitted this was not her first attempt to smuggle drugs from the U.S.A. into Tahiti, and that she was working from someone locally in exchange for a big financial payment, the Customs Department said.

That led customs officials to question the woman's 41-year-old mother just as she was about to leave the airport. The mother, customs officials said, was fully aware of her daughter's alleged illegal drug trafficking activities and even admitted to having participated herself in the ring.

Besides the 0.467 kilograms of "ice" seized on July 13, the two women admitted having previously separately brought into Tahiti 200 grams and 500 grams of illegal drug, the Customs Department reported.

The two women were placed in police custody and then transferred to Tahiti's prison. After four days in custody, they were brought before an examining magistrate, who opened an investigation, returning the two women to the prison on July 17, according to the Customs Department communiqué.

The arrests and the continued investigation by customs officials confirmed the existence of an illegal drug trafficking ring between California and Tahiti using regularly scheduled international airline flights, the Customs Department said.

Three other women, ages 31, 39 and 41, were subsequently taken into police custody as customs officials pursued their investigation. The three women admitted serving as "mules" on flights from the U.S.A. to Tahiti between September 2003 and December 2005, the communiqué reported. A mule is someone who smuggles drugs.

The three women also said, according to customs officials, that they had been paid by the woman who operated the drug ring, providing each woman with a roundtrip airline ticket and pocket money. Customs officials said the women admitted illegally smuggling into Tahiti a total of 1.25 kg (2.8 pounds) of "ice" and 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of cocaine during a total of five trips to Tahiti.

Two of the women were transferred to Tahiti's prison, while the third was placed under judicial control, customs officials said.

Customs officials also reported another person, aged 37, who admitted smuggling five grams of "ice" on a return trip to the U.S.A. in September 2005.

August 11, 2006

Tahitipresse: www.tahitipresse.pf

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