VANCOUVER - Five men linked to organized crime have been arrested in the largest-ever Canadian bust involving the date- rape drug ketamine.
More than 1000 kilos of ketamine, worth an estimated $15 million, were intercepted last month by the Canada Border Services Agency.
CBSA official Colleen Pinvidic said the white powder was vacuum sealed in bags and secreted in boxes containing mugs that arrived at the Port of Vancouver in a container from Hong Kong.
"This is the largest seizure ever made in Canada of ketamine," Pinvidic said.
Suspicious CBSA agents both x-rayed and searched manually until they found the ketamine hidden under the mugs in 84 of the 402 boxes.
"When CBSA officers examined the goods, they noticed discrepancies in the x-ray image and a full examination of the container was conducted," she said.
When the drug was tested, it was positively identified as ketamine, which is a tranquilizer with hallucinogenic properties that can cause amnesia, depression and long-term memory and cognitive problems.
"Sometimes known as Special K, ketamine is a substance that can be mixed with ecstasy or can be used on its own and has been used as a date rape drug," Pinvidic said.
RCMP, Supt. Brian Cantera, who heads the Federal Drug Enforcement Program, said police were called in to investigate where the ketamine was headed.
"On December 11, 2010, the RCMP gathered enough evidence to arrest five men in Richmond. Using a search warrant, the RCMP's Clandestine Laboratory Team searched two locations in Richmond and discovered a pill press, binding agents and other materials commonly associated with a synthetic drug laboratory," Cantera told reporters at a Vancouver news conference.
He said three of the accused, Tak Ming Chan, 53, Yiu Ming Kwok, and Wing Kee Ng, both 53, are Chinese nationals and have been remanded in custody until February 8, Cantera said. All face charges of importing a controlled substance and possession for the purpose of trafficking.
Also charged with possession for trafficking are Vancouver residents Hoi Sing Lai, 54, and 42-year-old Hin Cheung Lau.
Cantera said that in Lai's residence, police also found four firearms - three shotguns and one pistol.
Cantera said police will do everything they can to prevent foreign organized crime groups from setting up shop in B.C.
"Canada is not open for business to foreign nationals who want to conduct illegal activities," Cantera said.
And he said his officers are continuing to investigate the links between the shipment and "specific organized crime groups from Asia."
Even before the news conferene began, Const. Michael McLaughlin warned reporters "to keep a two-foot buffer" from the stacks and stacks of plastic bags of white power covering a table and the floor area underneath. The four seized firearms were stacked on top.
And he asked photographers not to shoot the undercover operators in the room guarding the millions of dollars of ketamine.
Cantera said there has been a resurgence of ketamine in B.C. and Canada over the last two years.
The December seizure of 1003.9 kilos was part of a total of 1,800 kilos intercepted coming into B.C. in 2010.
While ketamine wholesales for about $15,000 a kilo, the street value of the drug is much higher, Cantera said, adding that the record seizure "puts a big dent" in the local supply.
"That is clearly taken out of the profits of drug traffickers," he said of the seizure. "That is enough ketamine for every person in the cities of Surrey and Vancouver combined."
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews praised the efforts of both the CBSA and RCMP, callnig the seizure "welcome news for the safety of Canadian families and communities."
"Our government recognizes that the trafficking of illegal drugs across our border undermines the safety of our streets and fuels organized crime in Canada. This is another clear demonstration that our government will not tolerate illegal activity," he said.
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