Undercover customs investigator regularly go looking for narcotics at Munich Airport. Couriers are getting ever more creative in how they hide their drugs, but the investigators have an unerring ability to find them out.
The plane from Amsterdam arrives early in the morning. While it rolls across the apron, a small group gets into position around the boarding bridge to welcome the arriving travelers. Reinhold Ott*, a large, athletic man with glasses and short grey hair, casts his eye over the people standing around and observes: Two of them have a suitcase, one woman has a travel bag, a man swings a backpack onto his back. To all appearances they are completely normal passengers. But in reality they are undercover investigators.
A second group comes around the corner. Its members wear green uniforms and vests emblazoned with “CUSTOMS”. Those in uniform exchange greeting with those in plainclothes: “Good morning, good morning”. Reinhold Ott is a customs official and a member of the plainclothes surveillance group. Together with 80 co-workers, men and women, from the customs office, he works at Munich Airport, not looking for undeclared goods, but for drug smugglers.
This is because couriers try to bring most of their drugs into the country by plane. At Munich Airport alone, officers of Munich’s chief customs office seized 114 kilograms of narcotics in total in 2020. In 2019 the number was 414 kilograms. The most commonly smuggled drugs are cocaine, ecstasy and khat, an African plant with an intoxicating effect.
The plane from Amsterdam has reached its park position. A young customs investigator stands directly in front of the passenger bridge. His name is Nando, a German Shorthaired Pointer, on a leash.
He and his fine nose will be helping investigators in their inspection today. The passengers leave the plane by the bridge and walk into the terminal. A few look askew at the uniformed officers as they pass, but they barely seem to notice the plainclothes investigators. This gives Reinhold Ott and his co-worker, Chief Customs Secretary Norbert Merk*, the chance to take an even closer look at the passengers hurrying by. “You make a decision for or against someone in a matter of seconds,” explains Ott. In the end, they intercept a man travelling alone. He is asked to show his ID and answer a few questions.
“We’re on the lookout for anything that isn’t right, the smallest discrepancies or anomalies,” says Norbert Merk. “If someone’s wearing old sneakers with what looks like a new suit, that’s odd. If we ask someone why he has flip-flops and he starts to stammer, something’s up.” The man they’re talking to now has three phones with him, but these high-end smartphones don’t look right on him. That’s why Merk noticed him. In the control area, he is asked to open his suitcase, but the two investigators find nothing. And the rapid test reveals no trace of narcotics. The man is allowed to continue on his way.
“With a dog’s fine nose we would have known right away,” says Ott, giving a pat to Nando, who has just been sniffing out other passengers. On duty, the sniffer dog breathes in and out again several hundred times per minute – inspections are much more stressful for him than for his handler. That’s why he gets to take a break after every case.