Kuwait’s border security with Iraq has employed state-of-the-art technology to search thoroughly vehicles entering Kuwait that may be carrying illegal contraband, such as boxes of imported liquor or drugs. These illegal items are sought after and sold immediately after passing the border to dominant Arab nationals who can afford the high prices, which meets with the peddlers demand. The items are often sold in a matter of hours or delivered to those who placed orders prior to trips made by the drivers. Third parties often suffer, bearing the high cost of the items, which can be up to ten times higher than the manufacturer’’s suggested retail price for a bottle of alcohol.
In an exclusive interview with some of these drivers, Al Watan Daily was informed that water tankers, container vans and eight wheeler trucks have utilized different ways and means of smuggling into the country the “moneyـspinning” sales of these items to cater to local and foreign consumers in Kuwait.
Since the opening of two passages to and from Iraq, smugglers have profited by bringing in imported liquor and drugs via truck and service drivers of multiـnational logistics companies. Often reports state that drivers caught engaged in the trade have been apprehended and deported, the vehicles impounded, yet many questions loom over the fate of these confiscated items, as no end results are published nor disclosed to the public. Deported drivers claim connivances with their companies and rampant bribery of customs and border security officials.
“I believe the small salaries these drivers receive working as drivers in the middle of a war zone has given cause to the illegal trade. Since liquor is permitted in Iraq and sold at very cheap prices, these drivers take the risk of being caught and jailed just to earn in one trip what is approximately how much they make in a month,” said Harris, an employee of a logistics company. Harris admitted that his company has had several brushes with local authorities regarding the subject, but managed to a certain point to compromise and apprehend their drivers, terminate employment and render deportation. Harris denied the involvement of his company with the drivers” smuggling, and claimed of no knowledge of their actions. “It is appalling to see how much these drivers do to earn meager amounts,” added Harris.
Jed, a resigned driver of a multiـnational logistics company, admitted to smuggling liquor into Kuwait, but denied that his company had anything to do with the trade. Jed added that a Red Label Johnny Walker one liter bottle can be purchased for five Kuwaiti dinars and eight for the Black label. Jed added that drivers have devised several ways to smuggle the boxes into Kuwait, giving the example that some drivers create holes under their trucks and attach specially made compartments to conceal the contraband.
The compartment would appear to be a part of the vehicle, where inspectors and security personnel would least suspect its contents. Water tankers smuggle most of these items into Kuwait according to Jed, since water containers have huge compartments and are least inspected at the border, receiving easy access to travel back and forth between Kuwait and Iraq. Jed also said that drivers have special compartments at the back of the driver’’s seat which appear to be a portion of the seat. The compartment can easily contain three to four boxes, depending on the size of the vehicle. Some of the boxes are held in black plastic containers and mixed with other items, appearing to be a portion of returned items, and since the container in some cases holds a variety of items, inspectors often ignore them.
“A lot of these drivers know people at the borders and since they have become familiar faces, inspections of the vehicles are not made. Rumors has it that that some of the officials receive bribes and ask drivers to deliver their share of the items at an undisclosed location. Although this is a rumor, many have claimed that they have received such an offer,” stated Joseph, a resigned driver of a container van.
Joseph claimed that a container van can accommodate at least nine boxes of liquor that can be hidden in several place where security does not bother to check, and if they do find at least one box, it is confiscated and the driver is set free.
“Not all drivers do these things, but sometimes they request passage with a bottle (bribe) for personal consumption. It all depends who is inـcharge; sometimes they also confiscate the item, but in several cases, they are lenient and allow passage,” added Joseph.
“Inspection and security checks at the border have implemented strict measures and thorough checks are performed on vehicles. State of the art xـray equipment has been installed to scrutinize even the most hidden parts of the vehicles. A discoloration occurs on an item in the xـray picture, should any other liquor items appear. Immediate unloading of the items are done until the whole vehicle has been searched and approved for entry. Smuggling of liquor into Kuwait has stopped since the installation of these items, yet surprisingly, other drivers have maintained their capacity to bring in the items and sell to consumers, yet this time at expensive prices,” disclosed Arthur, driver of a truck that belongs to a logistics company based in Kuwait.
There are at least ten major logistic companies in Kuwait deploying vehicles to Iraq.
In the case of foreign embassies in Kuwait being allowed a limit of consumable alcohol, the Vienna Convention stipulates that a foreign embassy may be allowed to purchase items that are not available in the country and shall have no imposition of tax or levy. Although alcohol is neither specified nor defined, Kuwait’’s diplomatic relations with foreign embassies has included the purchase of such items, but is limited to a quota. Foreign ambassadors elect a dean and one of his many responsibilities is to arrange purchase orders from embassies. Furthermore, the dean submits the orders to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for approval and acquisition of the items. A limited quota in a year is imposed that includes the number of bottles allowed per embassy. These items are not to be sold and consumed outside the embassy premises and other diplomatic related areas.
A diplomat commented, “Every foreign embassy in Kuwait lauds the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for keeping close ties with foreign embassies in the country and respecting each of the countries” traditions and cultures; in return, we as foreign diplomats must also abide and respect by the laws of our host nation.