A trans-Atlantic investigation reaching from Frankfurt to Baltimore has netted this region's largest seizure of high-grade heroin in more than 20 years, federal agents said yesterday.
A Pakistani couple was arrested Jan. 11 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport with 14 pounds of heroin concealed in suitcases, said Special Agent Robert J. Penland of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The 80 percent-pure narcotic has a wholesale value of $2 million, and once diluted and sold on the streets could be worth $5 million, officials estimated.
Hafizuddin Hafizuddin, 48, and his wife, Zarina, 29, have been charged with conspiracy to import heroin, and other drug charges. The couple, from Islamabad, Pakistan, have pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court and are being held without bail at the Baltimore City Detention Center.
The Hafizuddins could be sentenced to life in prison; their trial has been set for March 20.
The operation began when German customs officials decided to X-ray the Hafizuddins' luggage when they arrived at the Frankfurt airport on a flight from Lahore, Pakistan.
Although the Hafizuddins were not being sought for drug trafficking, something about them and their suitcases aroused the suspicion of customs officials, said Special Agent Larry E. Hornstein, a spokesman for the DEA's Baltimore office.
The X-ray revealed secret compartments in the lining of two of the Hafizuddins' brown suitcases, according to Special Agent Hornstein. Apparently unknown to the Hafizuddins, customs agents then drilled small holes into the compartments to determine the contents. Once they detected heroin, the customs agents alerted DEA agents based in Frankfurt.
Under surveillance, the Hafizuddins were allowed to clear customs and catch their USAir flight to Charlotte, N.C., where U.S. Customs and DEA agents took over.
The suitcases were X-rayed again and agents watched the Hafizuddins claim their luggage, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. The Hafizuddins told a customs inspector they were traveling to Baltimore for pleasure.
Agents, hoping to identify others connected to the alleged smuggling scheme, let the couple pass through customs and fly to Baltimore. But no other arrests have been made in the continuing investigation.
"It was obvious that they were not meeting anybody at the airport" in Baltimore, said Special Agent Penland, who heads the DEA's local office. "They were just entering a taxicab at the time they were arrested."
The seizure was the largest amount of heroin taken since agents seized 23 pounds of 3 percent-pure heroin from Pakistani crew members aboard a freighter here in 1992. But officials said yesterday that the recent seizure was more significant because of the drug's purity.
"We have every reason to believe that the heroin was manufactured in the North-West Frontier Province of that country," said Special Agent Penland. Maryland state troopers with the BWI Airport Interdiction Unit, and Maryland Transportation Police also participated in the seizure.