DUBAI // International drug smugglers are increasingly moving other illegal products such as counterfeit prescription medicines through Dubai, Customs officers say. "Over the last few years we have seen a sharp increase in people smuggling in counterfeit goods, prohibited items such as black market medicine and duty-related evasion cases," said Hassan al Maidoor, the head of the Dubai Customs Free Zone inspection centre, whose department inspects around 20 tonnes of goods on an average day. He said better detection methods also meant drug smuggling was becoming increasingly risky as criminals were more likely to get caught. That, combined with harsher prison sentences for trafficking narcotics, was encouraging drug smugglers to explore alternatives like fake goods. New technology and extensive training of customs inspection officials have led to a 79 per cent increase in the detection rate of smuggled heroin from 2006 to 2008. Those who at one time would have smuggled heroin are turning to alternative means that can be more profitable and carry less of a punishment if caught, he said. "If we look at it, it is the same people who would once have thought that selling heroin was going to make them rich. Now they think that there are other ways to make money that don't carry a long prison sentence," Mr al Maidoor said. Last year, Airport Free Zone customs officials detected 123 cases of people attempting to evade customs duties on Dh270 million worth of goods - up 15 per cent on the previous year. Methods used ranged from false declarations to smuggling. In the same period, officials seized non-drug contraband worth Dhs62 million in the Airport Free Zone. Seized goods were largely fake medicines and clothing. "Our methods now focus on the paperwork as much as inspection, because those who manage to evade customs duty pose a threat to the community as much as the drug traders, and the business is lucrative," Mr Maidoor said. He has 43 inspectors split into five specialist teams that deal with the inspection and documentation of gold and expensive diamonds, courier packages, logistics, cargo and food. "We also have to look at blood diamonds, people who undervalue their products to pay less on duty and sell for a lot of money, stolen goods from abroad and cheap drugs imported from India," he said. "People that avoid paying duty on logistics affect the government's income directly." "Every time there is a plane from China we use our counterfeit goods experts. From India we have our medicine experts inspect it," explained Mr Maidoor. On a routine inspection Hassan Abdul Yasin, a senior inspector, asks workers at the Airport Free Zone to load up a heavy, industrial-sized container into one of customs newest scanners. "Our x-ray machines can pretty much detect anything. But if there is doubt then we manually inspect with detection guns then we bring in the canine unit," said Mr Yasin who was working the afternoon shift. "Our work here is 24/7 through the year." He said new equipment could detect even the smallest amounts of banned materials, as well as weapons and drugs. At the gold and diamond inspection centre, special attention to security is taken. Security guards are there in numbers. Cameras are recording every second of the day and inspectors have to go through a thorough, time-consuming inspection process. "We have excellent search centres in Dubai. At Jebel Ali Free Zone we inspect and document a lot of the cargo that comes into Fujairah and Ras al Khaimah. "We are the face of Dubai. We are not going to aggressively search people in the airport, we are going to use technology and intelligent guess work to catch the offenders while giving people a pleasurable experience coming in and out of Dubai," Mr Maidoor said at the end of his shift. firstname.lastname@example.org
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