Lisbon airport

PJ lift lid further off airport personnel working for drug cartels

Latest arrests involved employees with “enough drugs for a million doses, top-of-the-range cars and lots of money”…

Lisbon airport is one of the main points of entry of cocaine into this country. And according to Expresso “some of the drug goes undetected by authorities due to the complicity and ‘active role’ of certain airport staff bought by Portuguese and foreign networks”. 

The paper first reported on this phenomenon last month – but a few days ago the PJ’s National Unit to Combat Drug Trafficking (UNCTE) tightened its focus: detaining four people, including two baggage handlers.

“They had been involved in the business for a long time, bringing large quantities of drugs into Portugal. One of them had been monitored by us for over a year,” UNCTE criminal investigation coordinator Rui Sousa told the paper.

This time, the suspects went to collect the drugs “hidden among a legitimate cargo” that arrived in Lisbon in the hold of a plane coming from Latin America. 

The four boxes “did not have a legitimate recipient. They were transported out of the airport without being opened and evading customs control.”

According to the PJ, the drugs inside were enough to make one million one hundred thousand individual doses if the cocaine had reached ‘the streets’.

The arrested airport employees worked for Portuguese and foreign trafficking networks, Sousa explained. “They didn’t work for a specific criminal group, but for whoever paid them the most”. 

A month ago, another PJ source told Expresso that traffickers could pay handling staff around €5,000 euros for every kilo of cocaine that passed through airport checkpoints. Then they paid “double that for transporting the drugs”.

And what seems perhaps most bizarre is that these ‘inside operatives’ didn’t even know each other.

“They were not colleagues who worked side by side. They worked without a ringleader. It was a horizontal structure in which each one did a specific part of their job”, said Rui Sousa.

“Deep Cleaning II” – as this latest police operation was dubbed – began after it became very clear that the baggage handlers involved were living well beyond their means.

Their lifestyles were “barely if at all compatible with the salaries they received”, involving ‘top-of-the-range cars and lots of cash”.

They are now all ‘behind bars’ awaiting trail. But the reality is there are certain to be more where they came from.

“We are aware there may be more suspects”, Sousa told Expresso.

Meantime, in the United Arab Emirates, a Portuguese-Brazilian ‘drug lord’ who used to live in Cascais has been arrested.

Leonardo Serra Santos is believed to be the leader of the PCC in Portugal (PCC standing for Primeiro Comando da Capital/ First Command of the Capital) – a cocaine trafficking network described as the largest and most violent in South America.

Serra Santos is still officially a resident of Portugal and had opened businesses here which police believe were to be used as ‘fronts’ for laundering drug money, SIC television news reported last night.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com