Neal Hall, with files from Darah Hansen
September 16, 2005
A police raid on a Richmond home at 6651 No. 5 Road has uncovered a large-scale drug lab containing 200 kilograms of the illicit drug ecstacy worth an estimated $15 million.
Police were tipped to the drug lab after a huge shipment of sodium borohydride -- a precursor chemical used to manufacture ecstacy -- was shipped from Shanghai, China.
Transport Canada officials alerted police last week after finding it suspicious that 600 kilograms of the chemical was being shipped to a Richmond residence.
The amount of the chemical had the potential to produce, in combination with other chemicals, 15 million ecstacy pills with a street value of $300 million, said Richmond RCMP Cpl. Peter Thiessen.
The chemical was allegedly sent to a Richmond residence owned by Richmond real estate agent Albert Wai Ming Luk and was later transferred to a storage facility, then to the drug lab, police alleged.
Luk is also co-owner of the house on No. 5 Road where the drug lab was discovered.
Luk, himself, could not be located for much of the day Thursday, prompting police to turn to the public for help in tracking him down. Thiessen described Luk as someone who is "directly linked to this investigation" and urged anyone who knew of his whereabouts to call police immediately.
The search ended shortly before 6 p.m. when Luk turned himself in to the Richmond detachment.
Late Thursday night, police put on hold until morning plans to raid a second Richmond home suspected of containing an even larger ecstacy operation. The police search of the lab on No. 5 Road, meanwhile, wrapped up at 9 p.m.
According to Thiessen, the 200 kilograms of ecstacy seized Thursday was still in liquid form and had not been converted into powder form to make pills.
"Certainly organized crime is a strong possibility but it's too early to tell," Thiessen said when asked if the drug lab was linked to organized crime.
"It has to be an organized group of individuals to bring in this amount of chemical offshore and get it to this point and begin to process it into ecstacy," he added.
Four men, including two Richmond residents and two alleged Hong Kong nationals, were arrested in relation to the drug lab. The men, all of Asian descent, are in custody facing drug charges.
Sodium borohydride is a chemical classified as a "dangerous good" that reacts with water to produce flammable hydrogen gas, police said.
Enough of the chemical was found in the clandestine drug lab to have blown up the entire block, Thiessen said.
Police also executed search warrants Thursday on Luk's Richmond residence and a Richmond warehouse. More of the precursor chemical was seized at the warehouse and items of interest were found at Luk's home, Thiessen said.
Arabel Tak Yung Luk, described as a homemaker, is also listed as a co-owner of the home on No. 5 Rd. where the illegal drug lab was found.
Albert Luk worked for Sutton Realty-Seafair Group, according to a "sold" sign on the property where the drug lab was found. Police dressed in airtight chemical suits were at the scene Thursday removing drugs and chemicals from the home.
Thiessen said police drug experts who inspected the sophisticated lab concluded it was similar to those previously found in the Netherlands.
The discovery shocked neighbours, who were concerned that such a large-scale drug lab could have had potentially deadly effects on people living in the vicinity.
"I think it's really terrifying," said Jeannie Lindgrin, who lives a few houses away. "We used to see the odd car there and then it would be gone. It looked like they were fixing up the house."
Richmond RCMP Supt. Ward Clapham told reporters Thursday that he's glad to see the drug lab shut down because the dangerous drug has the potential to kill young people.
"We're serious about taking ecstacy and other types of drugs off the street, any way we can, and protecting our young people" he said.
Last week, a 13-year-old girl from a Victoria suburb died from a drug overdose after taking what she thought was ecstacy -- it is believed she ingested a form of crystal methamphetamine.
Vancouver RCMP also announced Thursday that police searched another illegal drug lab at 3179 East 14th Avenue in Vancouver and seized two fully operational pill presses with 40 pill stamp design heads, a heroin/cocaine press and 130,000 ecstacy tablets packaged in vacuum-sealed bags.
The Vancouver bust was not related to the Richmond lab, police said. The Asian Organized Crime squad is investigating the Vancouver drug lab, which police said was capable of producing up to 3,000 pills an hour.
Photos of the pill stamp design heads are being distributed to police agencies worldwide to find out whether pills produced at the Vancouver lab may have surfaced in other areas.
Criminal organizations often turn to the drug trade to generate profits, which can then be used to support other criminal activities such as importing other illegal drugs and gun smuggling.
WHAT THEY FOUND:
A Richmond drug lab raided Thursday contained:
- 200 kilograms of liquid ecstacy, enough to yield four million pills.
- 600 kilograms of sodium borohydride, a chemical used to manufacture ecstacy.
- The sodium borohydride, with other chemicals, could have produced 15 million ecstacy pills valued at $300 million.
Source: Richmond RCMP
Ran with fact box "What They Found", which has been appended to the end of the story.