SOUTH African Revenue Service (Sars) customs officials at OR Tambo International Airport on Friday evening confiscated 39 gold bars found in the hand luggage of two male passengers in the international departure area at the boarding gates.

“Acting on intelligence, which included collaboration between airlines, customs officials requested the two passengers to accompany the officers to the customs common search area for a mandatory inspection,” Sars spokesman Sandile Memela said in a statement.

One of the passengers, a Mozambican national, was en route to Dubai after arriving earlier from Mozambique.

The other passenger was a Pakistani national who lived in South Africa.

He did not have a boarding pass, but informed customs officials that he was on his way to Mozambique, he said.

“Officials found the 39 gold bars, weighing 37kg with an estimated value of R18.7 million, in the Mozambican’s hand luggage. Most of the gold bars were wrapped in T-shirts, while others were found in a paper bag in the same carry-on bag.

“Upon questioning the suspects, the Mozambican passenger claimed that the gold belongs to the other passenger.

“According to him, the Pakistani man gave him the bag that contained the gold bars. It is suspected that these passengers bypassed security, probably in collaboration with airline security,” Memela said.

The gold was retained for further investigation under the Customs and Excise Act and the Exchange Control Regulation.

The suspects were arrested, and their belongings, including the 39 gold bars, handed over to the police.

They were expected to appear in court today.

“This significant bust follows shortly after customs officials at King Shaka International Airport arrested a passenger trying to smuggle 5.6kg in gold from Dubai into South Africa.

“This was a significant seizure by the Sars customs. Operations of this nature will be conducted on an ongoing basis to eradicate the scourge of smuggling such commodities. Once again our dedicated, determined, and disciplined officers have displayed commitment in focusing in all areas of the port of entry to ensure the countering of smuggling of illegal goods,” Memela said.

In another bust on Saturday, also at OR Tambo, a South American woman was arrested after trying to smuggle R2 million worth of cocaine into the country.

“A scan showed suspicious contents in one of her checked-in bags. Two packets of cocaine, wrapped in brown tape, were found inside each of six handbags in her luggage.

“The drugs and the woman were handed over to the police,” Memela said. - ANA