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Customs catches couriers smuggling guns and drugs into the country

Published on February 01, 2022

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Since November 2021, Customs has detected multiple attempts to send packages with weapons and drugs via courier services.

The first alert was triggered on November 22, 2021, when customs personnel found 2,000 rounds of ammunition in a package that allegedly contained quilts. The discovery occurred after passing the merchandise through X-ray equipment.

The flight on which that package came, sent through a courier operator, was from Miami, Florida in the United States.

Three days later, on another flight from New York, officials found M4 rifle parts. That shipments final destination was Cuenca, and the components of the weapons were mixed between clothes, shoes and tools.

On January 19, 2022, a package arrived in the country from Miami destined for Morona Santiago. On this occasion, a rifle was found in the shipment.

These discoveries come at a time when the country is experiencing the worst security crisis of its time. In addition, crimes committed with firearms grew more than 100% in 2021.

Weapons smuggling is alarming

Public alerts about parcels being used to smuggle in weapons were reported by Carola Ríos, director of the National Customs Service (Senae).

Senae reported that the following prohibited objects were seized by its agents between November and December 2021:

  • 2,000 .22 caliber ammunition
  • 10 M4 rifles
  • 3,000 rifle ammunition
  • 24 blank pistols
  • 1,500 CO2 cartridges
  • 5,000 copper pellets
  • 2 kilos of marijuana
  • 3 knives
  • 2 telescopic sights

Felipe Ochoa, district director of Quito del Senae, says that this list is not exhaustive and that that since November 2021, “quite a few” seizures of prohibited objects that entered the country through couriers have been reported. He said that no further details about the cases can be revealed because investigations are ongoing.

Ochoa did add that these type of seizures thru couriers began long before 2021.

Based on these seizures, authorities are already planning for this new modality for bringing prohibited objects into the country: couriers.

One courier stands out

Although Customs has preferred not to reveal the name of the courier involved in most of these seizures, Ochoa confirmed that all the findings made since November correspond to shipments managed by the same courier operator.

Faced with this situation, Senae sanctioned this company and closed it down, since there were shipments that did not even have the recipient’s ID number in Ecuador. The company has since reopened after providing Senae with information about the shipments.

The case is now in the hands of the Ministry of Telecommunications, which oversees regulating parcel companies. This entity could order permanent closure of the courier; however the investigation is still ongoing.

When a suspicious package enters the country, the Senae official in charge of checking it alerts his superior who then notifies the Intelligence Directorate of the National Police.

At the moment, the first clues indicate that 90% of the packages with prohibited objects came from the United States and went to places like Guayaquil, Cuenca and others in the Amazon.

The investigations into these shipments are being coordinated with the Strategic Intelligence Center (CIES) and the Financial and Economic Analysis Unit (UAFE).

Affecting all couriers

This situation has generated concern in the Ecuadorian Association of Express and Courier Companies and Messaging (Asemec), which has 10 parcel operators such as DHL or FedEx as members.

Edith Villavicencio, president of Asemec, says that the operator under investigation is not a member of this organization, but these incidents have had an impact on courier businesses overall.

Since the first discovery in November 2021, Villavicencio says that the time for packages that arrive via courier is taking longer. And this causes customers to miss delivery deadlines.

Ochoa says that this is because 100% of the packages are undergoing X-rays. Before, only samples were analyzed.

This additional review is complicated by a lack of staff, since Senae cut much of its team during the pandemic. It has not yet been able to rehire them despite the fact that parcel flow is already above pre-Covid-19 levels.

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