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After Heathrow Drug Arrests, Johannesburg Security Guard Arrested

A female security guard has been arrested in Johannesburg, following the discovery of large quantities of marijuana and cocaine on a South African Airways aircraft at London's Heathrow Airport. The guard was arrested drug trafficking charges.

The female guard is one of 16 security personnel on duty clearing flight personnel for an SAA flight that left Johannesburg for Heathrow late Monday. Flight personnel, while undergoing the same security checks as passengers, do so at a different location in the O.R. Tambo airport complex.

Fifteen South African air crew members from the flight were arrested at Heathrow early Tuesday, following the discovery of 50 kilograms of marijuana and four kilograms of cocaine in three bags, thought to belong to one or more of the crew. All 15 were subsequently released on bail without charge, but must return to London in March to face being charged.

SAA spokesperson Robyn Chalmers told South African radio the local arm of the investigation is proceeding well.

"So the investigation is moving very swiftly, which we are very pleased about, and hopefully we will be able to get to the bottom of this quite soon," she said.

Chalmers added that the South Africa Police Service is working closely with British authorities in the investigation.

"I believe that the police investigation in London is still [ongoing], but I think that the [South African Police Service] will be in close contact with the authorities in the United Kingdom. They also have people in the United Kingdom that they will be working with," she said.

O.R. Tambo airport, formerly Johannesburg airport, has for several years been notorious for poor security, with police foiling many attempts to smuggle drugs, money, and endangered wildlife and wildlife products. But it was widely believed that those cases represented the tip of the iceberg. The airport was also known for the theft of passengers' bags and valuable items such as cameras and mobile phones.

But in the past few years, as the airport has been upgraded in advance of the 2010 FIFE World Cup, a lot of work has been done to improve security. Now, Chalmers says, those processes are being revisited.

"One of the things that we are doing, as I have mentioned, is to do a complete review of our processes. So, we need to go back and examine every single, solitary element of it to make sure that it is up to speed," she said.

South Africa is a major producer of illegal marijuana, and is a known trans-shipment center for heroin, hashish and cocaine. Following years when marijuana and methaqualone were the major illicit drugs consumed in the country, it now has a severe problem with the use of methamphetamine and a rising consumption of cocaine and heroin.

Studies say in South Africa the illegal drug trade is closely linked to money laundering and organized crime.