Wednesday, November 6, 2013

LAN Airlines: The carrier of choice for drug smugglers?

Travelers' alert

Guadalajara -
LAN Airlines S.A. is a consortium of South American Airlines based in Santiago, Chile which form part of LATAM Airlines Group, Latin America's largest airline holding company. LAN is the Chilean flag carrier, the predominant airline in Perú and Ecuador and the second largest carrier in Argentina and Colombia through its local affiliates. It also appears to have become very popular with determined narcotics traffickers, who never give up looking for ways to move their products in international commerce. Innocent travelers are often the unwitting mules, and the consequences can be severe.

In June MGR reported on the case of 23 year old Veracruz resident Ángel de Maria Soto Zarate, who flew off to World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro hoping to see her beloved Pope Francis. After making it as far as Peru she ended up back in Mexico facing charges of cocaine smuggling. The case had a happy ending, but serves as a warning of how airlines and their passengers are used by traffickers. In Soto's case, the events could not have occurred without the active participation of airline employees. Skilled drug traffickers move product with the help of innocent travelers. She booked her trip on LAN.

A very similar case over the weekend involved another Mexican national and the same airline. A man arrested at Mexico City's International Airport on Sunday with a valise containing 25 kilos of cocaine was freed by federal authorities yesterday after security camera videos taken at his point of departure, the Buenos Aires airport, proved the drug laden luggage was not his. The victim is a PriceWaterhouse accountant, who related the following story:

He and his girlfriend were returning from a brief trip to Argentina via LAN Airlines, with three pieces of luggage checked through to Mexico City. Their flight made a stop in Lima. On arrival in the Federal District a valise belonging to his girlfriend could not be located, but a black one which was not theirs - but which carried the claim check for the missing bag - appeared at the luggage counter. While they waited for airline personnel to sort out the confusion, Federal Police airport officers appeared and opened the black bag, revealing the cocaine. Security videos taken at the Buenos Aires terminal exonerated the couple, which plainly showed them carrying three bags, none of which was black.

As in the first case, every scenario points to the participation of airline employees. Both victims were saved by photographic evidence demonstrating their innocence. But if equipment had malfunctioned or failed to capture a clear image of embarking passengers with luggage plainly visible, the outcome could have been different. A Mormon mom from Goodyear, Arizona was saved in much the same way in May, although she was traveling by bus.

Mar. 31, 2013 - Mexican drug traffickers find ready assistance in mules carrying American passports
June 27, 2012 - Narco Feds operating out of DF airport sent huge amount of drugs to U.S., Europe

2012: Narcotics pass through Mexican airports
Dec. 26 - Cancún Int'l. Airport a "lawless gateway" for drug exports
Sept. 27 - Cancún airport was key narcotics distribution hub for Beltrán Leyva cartel
July 15 - Mexican federal cop killer arrested
June 28 - Mexico offers $5 million pesos for "traitor agents" in slaying of three fellow officers
June 25 - Three dead in Mexico City International Airport shooting

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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