The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has issued an alert to furloughed port and airport workers warning they may be vulnerable to organized crime groups seeking to exploit the Covid crisis.
As global restrictions on the movement of people and goods are relaxed, the agency’s alert warns that staff who have a detailed knowledge of controls and processes around the UK’s border could be targeted as furloughed staff return to work following the easing of Covid restrictions. This includes port and airport operators, contractors, couriers and freight operators.
NCA Borders threat lead Beki Wright explained, “Life has been difficult for everyone during the Covid 19 pandemic, including staff who work at the border, but organized criminals are alive to the opportunities this presents. The prospect of having your bills paid in exchange for disclosing knowledge about the UK border might seem appealing, but the people behind these offers are high-harm criminals responsible for drug smuggling, gun running, money laundering and people trafficking. Working with our partners at the Department for Transport and Border Force, we are determined to do all we can to combat corruption and dismantle the criminal networks responsible for it.”
The NCA states that in recent years its investigations and intelligence has identified examples of organized criminal networks targeting those working at ports and airports, parcel hubs and delivery centers. While the numbers are relatively low, it notes that the impact of such corrupt insiders can be extremely high. Its 2021 National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised crime states that organized crime group (OCG) efforts to establish new insider contacts are likely to increase as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic.
The Amber Alert issued by the agency warns that OCGs frequently offer financial support in return for knowledge and access to restricted areas. This access can be used to help smuggle illicit commodities such as firearms and drugs, or the movement of vulnerable people and children through organized immigration crime.
One of a number of case studies the agency highlighted involved baggage handler Joysen Jhurry, who was among 11 defendants in a case relating to a plot to smuggle cannabis and cocaine into the UK through Heathrow airport in 2018. Jhurry was observed on CCTV moving suitcases that had arrived from Brazil onto the domestic reclaim belt, where they would be collected by couriers.
A substantial quantity of class A drugs was recovered and it transpired that over 100kg cocaine and 44kg cannabis had been imported into the UK using this method. Jhurry was jailed for 16 years for his role in the operation.