Historic Chile Robbery Highlights Holes in Airport Security

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A group of armed men have pulled off the biggest heist in Chile’s history, stealing an estimated $10.5 million from an armored truck at Santiago’s international airport and raising concerns over the country’s ability to secure the airport.

In the early hours of August 12, eight armed robbers dressed as airport employees held up an armored vehicle carrying cash waiting to be transported to northern Chile, reported La Tercera. The security personnel in the cargo terminal were reportedly unarmed due to Chile’s civil aviation regulations, which allowed the thieves to escape without firing a single shot.

Chilean Defense Minister Jorge Burgos called the robbery “an unfortunate and serious incident,” adding that authorities are planning to modify airport security measures, reported BBC Mundo. Chilean authorities have since fired the airport’s security chief.

The cinematic heist is reminiscent of a similar incident in April 2006, in which thieves stole around $1.6 million in the same terminal and from the same company, reported AFP.

InSight Crime Analysis

The scale of the airport robbery points to serious holes in security at Chile’s most important international airport, which could also be exploited by drug trafficking organizations.

Chile has become an important transit nation for European bound cocaine due to its shared borders with drug producing nations, and also has a growing domestic market. The country has seen a rise in drug seizures, which increased by over 70 percent in the first six months of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Chile

There have been several recent cocaine seizures at Santiago’s international airport, including the July arrest of a Bolivian national transporting two kilos of cocaine destined for Egypt, which led to an investigation that revealed regional drug trafficking organizations were using Chile as a transshipment point for Middle Eastern bound drugs. Last year, authorities also discovered cocaine hidden in copper tubes that arrived at Santiago’s airport from Colombia.

Although the seizures at this airport have been relatively minor compared to those at other regional airports — such as Peru’s Jorge Chavez international airport, where an entire customs police team was fired in April for facilitating drug trafficking to Mexico — the security issues exposed by the recent heist raise questions about how much criminal activity goes undetected. In January, for example, Bolivian officials stated that Bolivian drug mules were ingesting liquid cocaine bound for Chile, which is harder for x-ray equipment and airport security to detect. 

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