20 June 2005

Zimbabwe: Air Zimbabwe Pilots Quizzed Over Mbanje Find

AN AIR Zimbabwe cabin crew and two pilots were recently questioned and searched by British police after a suitcase packed with marijuana worth US$50 000 (about $1,75 billion on the parallel market) was discovered at Gatwick Airport after the plane arrived in London.

Sources who witnessed the drama told The Standard that sniffer-dogs became "excited" when the conveyor belt, carrying luggage from the Air Zimbabwe plane started moving.

"When the sniffer dogs started yelping as an indication that they had sensed some illegal substances, police details waited at luggage belt for the bag owner to claim the suitcase," said a source.

The source added that after nobody claimed the suspicious suitcase, detectives working in the drugs squad seized the suitcase and found that it contained marijuana compressed into bricks.

"The police in Britain reacted by questioning and searching the cabin crew and its pilots before they were allowed to go," the source said.

A female employee with the airline has been suspended on allegations that the suitcase laden with mbanje belonged to her.

After the incident, The Standard visited the Harare International Airport where police officers and sniffer dogs were on the prowl, to crack down on drug smugglers.

Attempts to obtain a comment from Air Zimbabwe chief executive officer, Tendai Mahachi, were fruitless.

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