Thu, 04 Dec 2003

Italian caught smuggling cocaine

Wahyoe Boediwardhana, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

Airport authorities on the resort island of Bali arrested a 24- year-old Italian national on Wednesday afternoon for attempting to smuggle some 5.26 kilograms of cocaine with a street value of about Rp 4.5 billion (US$529,000) into Indonesia.

The suspect was identified as Juri Angione from Orbetello, Italy. Angione, who has visited Bali at least four times in the past, gave authorities a temporary address in Banjar Anyar, Kuta.

"The arrest was the result of our officers' thorough inspection of incoming passengers' baggage and well-coordinated efforts with police," the head of the local customs and excise agency, Wahyu Purnomo, said.

Customs officers, equipped with an X-ray machine in the airport's cargo bay, were initially suspicious of a surfboard bag that arrived on Thai Airways flight TG 431 from Bangkok.

"When we scan a surfboard bag its edges will usually appear a bit faded and blurred on the X-ray monitor. This time, however, the edges appeared sharp and clearly defined," a customs official said.

A sniffer dog was brought in and alerted its handler to the cocaine in the surfboard bag.

"We then decided to release the bag to the baggage collection terminal to identify the owner," the official said.

The bag was claimed by Juri Angione, who found himself surrounded by security officers when he attempted to leave the terminal.

A thorough search on the bag produced three surfboards, two swim suits, two pairs of surfing shoes, a snorkel and 29 plastic packages hidden in the inner lining of the bag.

Wrapped in black carbon paper, the packages contained suspicious white powder, which a simple test confirmed as high- quality cocaine.

"One gram of this very high-quality cocaine has a street value of Rp 900,000 (US$106)," Bali Police narcotics chief Sr. Comr. Bambang Sugiarto said.

Angione admitted that the bag, clothes, shoes and surfboards were his but denied any knowledge of the cocaine.

It was the biggest cocaine seizure in 2003 by the Bali airport authorities and the second largest in three years. Bali is known as a main transit point for international drug dealers.

In April 2001, Bali customs officials found 15.22 kilograms of cocaine inside a surfboard bag belonging to Mexican nationals Victor Manuel Navaro Garcia and his girlfriend Clara Elene Umana Caotrin.

In December 2001, Garcia was sentenced to life imprisonment while Caotrin was sentenced to seven years in jail.