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SAA crew released after drug bust

Published Jan 21, 2009

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Three SAA pilots and 12 cabin crew detained by the British authorities for alleged drug possession were released without being charged, the national carrier said on Wednesday.

South African Airways (SAA) spokesperson Robyn Chalmers said the 15 employees were released on Wednesday morning and the airline was arranging to get them back to South Africa.

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They group would not be suspended but would be interviewed by SAA on their return to the country.

"They haven't been suspended... they will come back and SAA will interview them before any course of action is decided upon," Chalmers said in a statement .

"SAA is co-operating fully with UK authorities. The airline has also launched an investigation into this matter involving SAA Aviation Security and the SAPS Crime Intelligence Unit. SAA has a zero tolerance approach towards the use of the airline's services for any criminal activity."

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Meanwhile, the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) in response to the incident, on Wednesday said: "At all our airports, airline crews and pilots are screened and processed like any other passenger upon departure.

"At Cape Town and OR Tambo we have a dedicated check point for all airport staff (ACSA and non-ACSA) including airline crews and pilots. They are subjected to the same screening procedures as passengers."

However, it said, SAA has a separate crew centre with its own screening area at OR Tambo which was managed and run by the airline.

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The 15 SAA staffers were arrested at London's Heathrow Airport on Tuesday after the UK Border Agency found 50kg of dagga in bags belonging to the crew.

The agency said the dagga, valued at about R2,1-million, was discovered in three pieces of baggage on South African Airways flight SA234 from Johannesburg on arrival at 8am.

Later reports said four kilograms of cocaine worth 160,000 pounds had also been found.

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Bob Gaiger, spokesperson for Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs at Heathrow, said those arrested were being held in custody and questioned.

"HMRC, together with UKBA (UK Border Agency), play a vital role in the fight to prevent illegal drugs from entering the UK and in protecting our communities from the violence and corruption that always accompany this hideous trade," said Gaiger. - Sapa

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