Algeria – France: Cocaine at Orly Airport, how Air Algérie is handling the scandal

By Farid Alilat
Posted on Thursday, 23 September 2021 18:00

An Air Algerie Boeing 737-600 on the tarmac of Orly, near Paris
An Air Algerie Boeing 737-600 on the tarmac of Orly, near Paris © Laurent GRANDGUILLOT/REA

After the arrest of one of its stewards who was carrying drugs between France and Algeria, the national airline is tightening its rules.

On September 18, flight AH-1123 from Constantine (350 km east of Algiers) to Paris ended in a scandal that Air Algérie could have done without. While he was presenting himself to the Orly border police to return to his aircraft after a short trip outside the airport, a steward was stopped in the area reserved for flight personnel.

The scanner having detected a suspicious object on him, he was subjected to a body search: they discovered between 300 and 400 grams of cocaine wrapped in aluminium and hidden in his socks. The drug was intended for resale or consumption in Algeria. The man was placed in custody pending the outcome of the investigation.

Deprived of stopovers

Aged 27, this young father is not a regular on international flights – based in Constantine, he normally flies the domestic routes. But he is the son of a highly respected captain of Air Algerie. “His family is stunned and shocked,” says a source close to the case.

On 20 September, Air Algérie took the lead by announcing in a press release that a member of its flight crew had been arrested at Orly by French security services, following the discovery of a “prohibited substance”. The accused has been suspended from flying and working, and the company reserves the right to file a civil suit.

The affair is causing problems, in particular among the flight personnel abroad. The very next day, they learned through an internal memo – which the captains are required to enforce – that they were henceforth forbidden to get off the aircraft during stopovers. Until then, Air Algérie employees were allowed to go out and make small purchases at the pharmacies or at Duty Free. They could even leave the airport to pick up packages or mail.

State scandal

In the Algerian airports, the controls at the borders are however very strict, assures a captain who wished to remain anonymous. All flight personnel are subject to reinforced controls,” he explains. When transporting drugs such as antidepressants or anxiolytics, police and customs officers require prescriptions to prevent trafficking.

Algeria was shaken in 2018 by a cocaine trafficking scandal, which shook the top of the state and led to a series of heavyweight dismissals. On 29 May, 701kg of cocaine were discovered in meat containers on a ship en route from Brazil. The goods belonged to Kamel Chikhi, an importer and real estate developer with connections to high-level civilian and military figures.

General Major Abdelghani Hamel, who headed the national police since 2010 and was very close to the former presidential circle, was dismissed less than a month later. More than three years later, the case has yet to be brought to trial.

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