TWO security guards were among five people arrested on Sunday at Piarco International Airport just as two suitcases filled with $34.4 million in cocaine was being loaded into the cargo hold of a Caribbean Airlines (CAL) aircraft. The flight was about to depart for New York.
The five appeared before an Arima magistrate yesterday to answer charges of possession of cocaine for the purpose of trafficking and attempting to export a banned item namely cocaine. Police said that Marlo Ricardo Thomas, 45; check-in clerk Krystel Birot, 24; baggage handler Maurice Edwin Hinds, 27, and security guards Kyle Jones and K’dere Lee Gomez, 23 and 27 respectively, all appeared in court to answer the charges.
A release issued by the TT Police Service stated that the five were arrested and charged after the drugs were found in two suitcases stored on the CAL aircraft. However, no indication was given if they were remanded into custody or granted bail.
Newsday spoke with a source close to the investigation who said the airport bust came after months of investigative work by airport security from Intercept Security Ltd and the police Organised Crime Intelligence Unit (OCIU) who were monitoring the activities of certain airport staff believed to be involved in drug trafficking.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source said the arrests were made when people were trying to load almost 200 pounds of cocaine onto CAL flight BW520. After the arrests, the suspects were handed over to OCIU officers stationed at the airport.
“People have to know there’s a price to pay. We have had some success, but we have also had some failures where contraband items have gotten past us. When we get suspicious of our staff, we work with the authorities to investigate,” the airport source said.
The source disclosed that while there have been no sharp increase in drug shipments coming out of TT, traffickers are finding newer and more innovative ways of smuggling contraband through airport security. He said security officials and airlines need to guard constantly against these developments by co-operating with the authorities and remaining vigilant over employees who they suspect may be involved in trafficking.
Newsday attempted to contact Caribbean Airlines CEO Garvin Medera for a comment yesterday but calls to his cellphone were not answered.