From iguanas to cocaine: Germany publishes list of customs seizures

The German customs authority is known to be one of the strictest in the world. But despite the creative ways smugglers try to get past the authorities, new figures show most contraband still arrives via post.

From iguanas to cocaine: Germany publishes list of customs seizures
The cusums authorities at work. Image: DPA

Germany’s Bundeszollverwaltung – usually shortened to Zoll or Zollamt – is the federal authority tasked with keeping contraband out of the country. Whether it be illicit drugs, counterfeit medicines or exotic animals, the Zoll is Germany's last line of defence. 

Their recently released 2018 statistics show that despite the ever more creative ways smugglers have tried to evade the authorities, by far the most comes in through the post. 

The statistics showed that 91 percent of contraband found was in mail sent from abroad to Germany, particularly medicines and illicit drugs being sent from China. The drugs are frequently ordered from the so-called ‘dark web’ before being packaged and sent to Germany. 

READ: Cocaine worth €25 million found in Aldi banana boxes in north Germany

The confiscated drugs include counterfeit medicines – particularly impotence drugs like Cialis and Viagra – as well as anabolic steroids.

Drugs seized by Zoll on display. Image: DPA

Illicit drugs, such as the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is significantly stronger than morphine and has caused frequent overdoses in recent years, was also seized. In the United States more people die each year of fentanyl overdoses than from any other drug. 

Throughout 2018, more than 19,000 random searches were conducted on incoming mail, uncovering 1.5 million illegally-imported tablets and pills of various drugs. Steroids were also commonly seen, with more than 117,000 seized – including 1,000 in the possession of one athlete. 

A Zoll spokesperson said the seizures were necessary, particularly as people may be unaware of the risks associated with prescription drugs ordered online. 

“It’s bad that for many a cheap, one-click product is still an alternative to a trusted prescription drug or drugstore medication”, Albrecht Vieth told DPA. 

Drugs seized by Zoll disguised as a ream of A4 paper. Image: DPA

Vieth said that while the mail was the main source of imported contraband, “that does not mean we neglect other areas”. 

One method which has become increasingly common has been drugs brought in by ‘swallowers’ (schlucker). In total, 13 swallowers were identified in 2018, including a father and son from Guatemala who had swallowed almost 1.5 kilograms of cocaine between them. 

The amount of cocaine seized in 2018 grew significantly from previous years, from 94.3 kilograms in 2017 to 139 kilograms. 

Other methods included disguising drugs in imported chocolate and baseballs. 

2018 also saw more than 21,000 violations of Germany’s Species Protection Act, including attempted smuggling of live fish and iguanas.

SEE ALSO: Man tries to smuggle tortoises disguised as desserts through Berlin airport










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Germany should make cannabis available at pharmacies not ‘coffee shops’, says FDP boss

Germany's possible new government could well relax the country's strict cannabis laws. But FDP leader Christian Lindner says he doesn't want to go down the Netherlands route.

A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021.
A demonstrator smokes a joint at the pro-cannabis Hanfparade in Berlin in August 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

The Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) are set to engage in coalition talks in a bid to become the next German government.  And the future of cannabis will likely be one of the topics to be thrashed out.

In drug policy, the three parties are not too far apart in their positions. So it’s possible that the drug could be decriminalised.

However, nothing is set in stone and the parties still haven’t come to a common line on the question of where and to what extent cannabis could be accessed. 

The leader of the Liberal FDP, Christian Lindner, has now come out in favour of allowing cannabis products such as hashish to be sold in a controlled manner. 

Consumers should be allowed “to purchase a quantity for their own use, for example, in a pharmacy after health education,” Lindner told a live broadcast on German daily Bild on Sunday.

Lindner said he was sceptical about the sale in “coffee shops” according to the Dutch model. “I am in favour of controlled distribution, and therefore health education must be able to take place,” he said.

READ MORE: Patients in Germany still face hurdles accessing medical marijuana

People in the Netherlands can access cannabis products in coffee shops under the country’s tolerant drugs policy. However coffee shops have to follow certain strict conditions. For instance they are not allowed to sell large quantities to an individual. 

Lindner said his main aims were about “crime and health prevention” and not with “legalising a right to intoxication”.

It’s not clear if Lindner advocates for prescription-only cannabis for medical use, or an over-the-counter model. 

The FDP previously said that they they are in favour of the creation of licensed shops. Their manifesto highlights the health benefits, tax windfalls and reallocation of police resources that legalisation would create.

The Green party also want licensed shops, as well as a whole new approach to drug control starting with the controlled legalisation of marijuana. The Greens state that “strict youth and user protection” would be the centre point of their legislation and hope to “pull the rug from under the black market”.

The SPD also want a reform of Germany’s prohibition stance – but are more cautious than the smaller parties on the legalisation aspect. They would like to initially set up pilot projects. 

READ ALSO: Why Germany could be on the brink of legalising cannabis

Controversial topic

So far, the sale of cannabis is officially banned in Germany. Possession of cannabis is also currently illegal across the entire country. Those caught carrying the substance can face anything from a fine to five years in jail.

However, the justice system generally looks away if you are caught carry small quantities for personal use unless you have a previous conviction.

The definition of personal use differs from state to state, with Berlin having the most liberal rules and Bavaria the tightest.

It is estimated that around four million people regularly use cannabis in Germany.

Representatives of police unions in Germany have warned against legalisation. They argue that cannabis is an often trivialised drug that can lead to considerable health problems and social conflicts, especially among young people.

Oliver Malchow, from the GdP police union, said that “it doesn’t make any sense to legalise another dangerous drug on top of alcohol”.

The current Ministry of Health also continues to oppose the legalisation of cannabis, a spokesperson for Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) made clear. Cannabis is a dangerous substance and therefore legalisation is not advisable, the spokesman said.