Thai police on Wednesday announced the confiscation illegal drugs valued at more than 700 million baht (U.S. $20 million) during nationwide operations last week that led to the arrests of 16 suspected narcotics traffickers, including a Laotian woman.
Police seized 3.5 million methamphetamine pills, known locally as yaba or crazy pills, 42 kilograms (19 pounds) of crystal meth or ice, and 525 kilograms (238 pounds) of marijuana, which the suspects intended to distribute in southern Thailand and foreign markets, Deputy National Police Chief Gen. Chalermkiat Sriworakhan told a news conference in Bangkok.
“The Narcotics Suppression Bureau coordinated with other agencies to make five raids last week, netting 16 traffickers,” Chalermkiat said, adding that the operations took place in the provinces of Nakhaon Sawan, Khon Khaen and Chumporn and in Bangkok’s Saimai and Bangna districts.
A yaba pill is priced at 200 baht ($5.75) and crystal meth is 2 million to 5 million baht (U.S. $57,504 to $143,760) per kilo (2.2 pounds), while marijuana sells for about 10,000 to 15,000 baht ($290 to $430) per kilo in the domestic market, officials said.
The price would increase five to 10 times if it reached foreign markets, such as Malaysia, Australia and European countries where much of it was destined to be sent, they said.
Maj. Gen. Thanai Apichartsenee, a commander at the narcotics suppression bureau, who was also at the news conference, identified a Laotian suspect as Champa Sudlaew, 39. She was arrested while preparing to trade a kilo of crystal meth in Bangkok’s Bangna district, Thanai said. The 15 suspects are Thai citizens and ethnic Hmong, he said.
Thanai said the Laotian suspect was not linked to Xaysana Keopimpha – a Laotian dubbed the “ASEAN drug lord” – who is facing drug-related charges in Thailand. Xaysana was arrested at a Bangkok airport as he arrived from a holiday in Phuket in January. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Thai authorities confiscated more than 40.4 million yaba pills, 584 crystal meth, 56 kilograms of heroin and 4.4 tons of marijuana in 2015, according to official statistics.
In 2016, police seized 28.8 million yaba pills, 632 kilograms of crystal meth, 43 kilos of heroin and 917 kilos of marijuana. So far this year, 14 million yaba pills, 959 kilos of ice, 69 kilos of heroin and 369 kilos of marijuana had been confiscated, officials said.
“In the past years, we successfully cracked down on many drugs cartel networks. We disrupted cash flow that supports production of drugs, cutting purchasing power, particularly the networks in northeastern Thailand. We saw less supplies of yaba,” Chalermkiat told reporters.
Up in smoke
Last week, Thailand and Myanmar marked the International Day Against Drug Abuse by burning narcotics valued at almost $1 billion.
On the outskirts of Bangkok on June 26, Thai authorities torched drugs valued at almost $500 million, including thousands of kilos of yaba pills and meth. During the same day in three official ceremonies, Myanmar burned seized drugs valued at $385 million, mostly opium, heroin, meth tablets and cocaine.
Police have reported an upsurge in drug seizures across Southeast Asia in recent years, as armed gangs reportedly churn out vast quantities of meth, opium and heroin in a remote border region known as the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in its 2016 report the production of synthetic drugs such as meth, had increased in the Golden Triangle region. The report said 287 million meth pills were seized in East and Southeast Asia in 2015. That’s more than twice the number of pills seized in 2011.
Thai police officials said the vast amount of seizures indicated they were making inroads into their campaign to eradicate narcotics in the country.
But in May, Lt. Gen. Sommai Kongvisaisuk, the head of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, told reporters, without elaborating, that there were 400 million to 500 million yaba pills stockpiled on “the other side of Thailand border.”
“I am losing sleep because of it,” he said.