Police were questioning a senior British Airways employee last night over an alleged plot to smuggle cocaine with a street value of £13m through Heathrow airport.
The man, an employee in the airline's engineering department, was among six people arrested in raids by Customs and Excise officers and more than 100 police on Tuesday.
Undercover detectives tracked the group for four months on suspicion that they were planning to smuggle 200kg (440lbs) of cocaine by meeting couriers or "mules" off flights arriving at Heathrow.
A Surrey Police spokesman said the BA employee was based at Terminal 4 but had access to "all parts of the airport". The operation involved raids by Surrey Police and Customs and Excise officers at Heathrow airport and a number of addresses in Stanwell, Surrey.
It followed intensive surveillance of the gang, who are believed to have smuggled "large quantities" of cocaine into London and the Home Counties.
One man was released later with a caution for possessing class A drugs, but four men and a woman, including the BA employee, were still in custody at Staines police station.
Superintendent Richard Morris said: "The operation we have carried out will have a significant impact upon the availability of these drugs and demonstrates that we are determined to take action against those who think they are untouchable. This is an example of inter-agency law enforcement at its best." Peter Avery, assistant chief investigation officer of Customs and Excise, said: "This should send a message to all those involved in criminal activities, whether at importation or street level. That is: we will catch you."
The operation was conducted with the co-operation of British Airways security. Geoff Want, BA's director of safety, security and risk management, said his department was glad to have been able to help. "It is in the interests of us all to keep criminal gangs off the streets," he said
In August, police acted to reduce the quantity of cocaine smuggled through Heathrow by installing scanners at airports in the Caribbean, the main conduit for smuggling the class A drug into Britain. Cocaine shipments are routed through the Caribbean from South American countries where the drug is produced.
After scanners were installed at Jamaican airports, the number of drug mules caught before boarding flights doubled, while arrests in Britain fell by 75 per cent. Equipment has been sent to Antigua, St Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad, Tobago, Barbados, Grand Cayman and Grand Turk to prevent them becoming new transit zones.Reuse content