A long-serving American Airlines mechanic has been held in pre-trial detention since the beginning of 2020 accused of using his position to help smuggle Khat into the United States. Khat is a leafy green plant containing two main stimulant drugs which can speed up the mind and body with effects said to be similar but less powerful than amphetamine.
Mostly found in North East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, Khat is not illegal in a number of countries including Ethiopia and Somalia. The leaves of the Khat plant, which is chewed to produce the stimulant effect, remain popular amongst some immigrant populations. Khat does, however, contain the stimulants Cathine and cathinone which are both outlawed in the United States.
Adil Munir Yusuf, 53, has worked for American Airlines for over 22 years at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Prosecutors accuse Yusuf of helping to smuggle over 80,000 pounds of Khat into the United States between 2015 and 2020.
The street value of the drugs has been estimated at $82 million. Yusuf and five other defendants are also accused of money laundering after proceeds from the drug sells were wired back to Ethiopia.
Prosecutors claim Yusuf used his significant flight benefits that American Airlines gave him as part of his job to aid in the plot. Using ‘buddy pass’ privileges, his co-conspirators could fly to countries where the drug was legal and bribe foreign officials to label the shipments as innocent items like tea.
“Yusuf has abused a position of trust (airline mechanic with special access to airports and airplanes) by using airline benefits to travel to drug transactions,” court documents filed by federal prosecutors and reported by Dallas News allege.
Yusuf was deemed a flight risk and has been in custody since January. The final pre-trial hearing is not scheduled to take place until February 2021.
His defence team insist Yusuf is innocent and has been an exemplary employee who even won an award from American Airlines. No Khat was found on Yusuf when he was arrested.
Advocates of Khat claim the drug is no more addictive or harmful than a strong cup of coffee but the Drugs Enforcement Administration (DEA) says Khat has the high potential for abuse and could lead to delusions, liver damage, and cardiac complications.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.