From The Malta Independent November 10, 2001
Protected birds shot in Egypt imported to Malta
Bags slip through customs checks at airport
by Steve Chetcuti
An intricate plan was set up at Malta International Airport to import protected birds into the island illegally, The Malta
Independent can reveal.
Investigations revealed that a number of people - including personnel at the airport - were
involved in the racket.
Thousands of protected birds are being brought into the island and sold to eager buyers for
hundreds of liri.
The birds, mainly shot in Egypt, include eagles and pelicans. Sources said the birds were shot
"in their hundreds" and an entire pelican colony in Aswan was almost wiped out.
But the authorities are
having difficulties tracking down the suspects, as accomplices at the airport warn off the smugglers before any raid is conducted.
Recently, a bag packed with dead birds was left on the carousal (sic) at the airport after police officers arrived
to carry out searches.
But the smugglers' tactics have improved and the bags are being brought into the island without
passing through the necessary customs checks.
The Malta Independent can reveal that arrangements are made with contacts
in Malta for the bags - some containing up to 400 dead birds - to be taken out from a side exit and delivered to the racket
Sources said a method of identifying baggage containing the dead birds is agreed upon between the contacts
in Egypt and other African countries and their Maltese associates.
"Many systems are used. For example, they
could put green tape on the handle of the bag in question, and when the contact in Malta sees the bag, it is not placed with
the rest but taken out through a back gate, avoiding any checks," a well-informed source said.
The source said
that the person who takes the bag out can receive up to Lm450 for his work. And police are finding difficulties in tracing
the illegal imports, as they are distributed immediately.
Mario Bugeja, Airport Security manager, was sceptical of
the possibility that bags could be removed from the airport without passing through customs.
"Our office has
never received any official reports of bird smuggling through the Malta International Airport. It is to be noted that this
matter is the onus of the Customs Department, and not entirely a security issue," Mr Bugeja said.
He said an
inspector from the Environment Protection Department had also given him similar information as that received by The Malta
However, Mr Bugeja said there was no intelligence to indicate that bird smuggling was going on. And
no evidence was found to implicate two airport employees suspected of involvement in a smuggling racket, the airport security
He said a number of operations were coordinated by his office, and planes from the destination
indicated by the authorities were targeted over a two-month period, but nothing was found.
"These flights are,
however, still being monitored. To date, nothing irregular has been found," Mr Bugeja said.
And Armed Forces
of Malta commander Rupert Montanaro said checks were being carried out. He said details of the security operations could not,
for obvious reasons, be divulged.
He said the AFM had no indications that any of its personnel could have in any
way been involved in the illegal operations.
Despite the difficulties being faced by investigators, there have been
successes. Recently, an Mgarr man was found in possession of 120 unregistered birds, which were confiscated. Police sources
said evidence was found showing that the suspect worked as a taxidermist on "a large scale". Criminal action is
expected to be taken against the man.
Police are also understood to be carrying out investigations with their counterparts
in Egypt through Interpol.
Sources told The Malta Independent that since Air Malta opted to stop its service to Cairo,
alternative routes would have to be found as the smugglers have lost their main connection to Egypt.
large consignment of protected birds was also understood to have been heading for Malta, but could have been delayed due to
increased police surveillance.
Police investigations are being carried out by the Administrative Law Enforcement
squad headed by inspector Alex Miruzzi.