Massive crystal meth seizure on Thai border

By AFP   April 3, 2018 | 02:26 am PT
Massive crystal meth seizure on Thai border
A chemist (L) tests a sample of crystal methamphetamine while Royal Thai national police chief General Chaktip Chaijinda (C) inspects a cache of seized illegal drugs during a press conference in Bangkok on April 3, 2018. Photo by AFP.
788 kilograms of the stimulant was found in a Thai northern province, heart of the infamous 'Golden Triangle' drug producing zone.

Thai authorities have seized a massive methamphetamine haul worth almost $38 million near the Laotian border, officials said Tuesday, highlighting the kingdom's role as a pipeline for drugs flooding through Southeast Asia.

Early Tuesday authorities found some 788 kilogrammes (1,737 pounds) of crystal meth -- a high-purity form of the stimulant -- in an abandoned pick-up truck in northern Chiang Rai province, the heart of the notorious "Golden Triangle" drug producing zone.

More than nine million meth tablets were also found in fertiliser bags inside the vehicle, some 100 metres away from the Mekong river that divides Thailand and Laos.

"Both type of drugs were found in the abandoned pickup truck... in Wiang Kaen district in Chiang Rai province," a military official told AFP, requesting anonymity.

He said the drug smugglers had already fled the scene while authorities have detained three Thai men suspected of preparing to move the cache to the next destination.

The Golden Triangle -- a remote region where northern Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet -- is a base for cartels who churn out huge quantities of opium and meth that are smuggled through porous borders to countries across Asia.

Commonly known as "ice", crystal meth is a stronger form of the drug that sells for around $60-80 a gramme in Thailand.

The drug is often smuggled south into Thailand, then on to Malaysia or even Australia -- the world's largest per capita consumer of crystal meth -- where the price surges.

Ice's lower-grade and cheaper cousin, the caffeine-laced meth pills known as "yaba", is also massively popular across Asia.

Drug officers said the pick-up truck seizure was one of the biggest in recent memory, with the wholesale price of the crystal meth valued at up to $37.8 million in Thailand.

It came less than a week after authorities confiscated 700 kilogrammes of crystal meth in a truck travelling down Thailand's southern tip, which leads to Malaysia.

The drugs were found on March 28 among fruit packed into a six-wheel vehicle in Chumpon province.

"The drugs were being transported via Thailand to Malaysia and destined for third countries," said Soonthorn Chalermkiat from the Narcotics Suppression Bureau.

Two Thai and two Malaysian trafficking suspects have been arrested, he added.

Record amounts of yaba and the more addictive ice are being seized by Thai police.

But drug experts say the busts have done little to dent production, with cartels easily making up for the confiscations and no palpable increase in street prices.

Rampant corruption has also helped protect the lucrative trade, while arrests of high-level kingpins remain rare.

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