DUBAI / In one of the UAE’s biggest drug hauls to date, police raided a warehouse and seized 4.2 million amphetamine-like pills that had been smuggled into the country in large textile rolls.
Police, who have a suspect in custody and have issued arrest warrants for several members of an alleged international drug smuggling ring in connection with Friday’s raid, estimated the Captagon pills could be sold on the street for about Dh210 million (US$57m).
“The drugs arrived on board a ship concealed in large textile rolls in a very professional manner. They were en route to be transferred to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia after the buyers would arrive,” said Major Gen Abdul Mahdi, head of the anti-narcotics department.
The seizure may be another indicator of the growing popularity of Captagon in the region. The pills are usually taken recreationally, but are also used by women as a weight loss aid and by students wanting to stay awake while cramming for examinations.
Gen Mahdi yesterday outlined the three-week operation that led to the seizure, which he said had been prompted by a tip-off from the Saudis.
Early last month, according to Gen Mahdi, Saudi anti-narcotics authorities provided Dubai Police with information that the drugs might be arriving in the UAE.
They placed a 35-year-old Arab national, whom police identified only by the alias they gave him – The Professional – under surveillance.
The suspect, who was arrested in the raid, had allegedly been dispatched by the ring to Dubai to receive the shipment of textile rolls from another Arab country.
The drugs are believed to have arrived at an unidentified port between November 15 and 20.
The suspect was then meant to repack and re-export them to another country, apparently Saudi Arabia, police said.
“On his own he unpacked the pills and repacked them then placed them in boxes so they can be re-exported,” Gen Mahdi said.
The suspect was awaiting a buyer before re-exporting the drugs, but the transaction was apparently delayed because of the Eid holiday. Lt Col Yousif Adaily of the police anti-narcotics department said the manufacturers of the pills probably sold them “wholesale” for about Dh16.8m.
“These pills were professionally packed and branded by the exporters,” he added.
Gen Mahdi said the same drug smuggling gang had managed to get a smaller shipment through Dubai earlier this year.
He confirmed that his department had issued international arrest warrants for the suspected heads of the gang, but declined to name their country or countries of origin.
“We have issued the warrants through the Ministry of Interior to the authorities concerned; we will not be looking to prosecute these heads in the UAE but will be providing any co-operation required to the authorities concerned,” he said.
Gen Mahdi said the pills were not intended for consumption in the UAE.
“The suspect has confessed to us and revealed the motives behind the crime. Authorities in the kingdom as well are conducting their investigations to net the potential buyers of the pills,” he said.
According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report issued in July last year, Saudi Arabia has seen a sharp rise in Captagon abuse.
Saudi authorities seized 12.3 tonnes of the drug in 2006, compared with 291kg just three years earlier.
The UN office also ranks Saudi Arabia as the biggest consumer of stimulants in the region.
The stimulants, according to the UNODC, are often trucked from Bulgaria and Turkey through to Syria and Jordan before being distributed throughout the Gulf.
The seizure is just the latest in a string in the UAE, and is by far the largest in Dubai this year.
Police had already seized more than 1.5 million Captagon pills in the first nine months of the year.
In one recent operation, the Ministry of Interior, Dubai Police and Sharjah Police recovered 400,000 pills destined for other countries.
Dubai Customs also earlier this year found 651,000 Captagon pills hidden inside 152 industrial-sized spools of thread.
Dubai Police arrested 77 suspects in 47 drug cases between January and September, including many who were using the UAE as a transit point to deliver narcotics to neighbouring countries.
Overall, the number of reported drugs cases in Dubai, including those involving drugs such as heroin and cocaine, is rising.
So far this year, the emirate has reported 1,021 arrests in 653 drug cases involving 233kg of seized narcotics. The previous year, it reported 734 arrests in 542 drug cases, with 158kg of narcotics seized.
By Awad Mustafa
December 15, 2009