Thai police Thursday announced the arrests of 15 Malaysians suspected of trying to smuggle crystal methamphetamine and heroin with a street value of millions of dollars by train into Malaysia.
The suspects were arrested Wednesday aboard a train heading to Padang Besar, a southern Thai town on the Malaysian border, police said.
“There are 226 kilos [nearly 500 pounds] of Ice [crystal meth] and eight kilos [18 pounds] of heroin,” Police Lt. Gen. Thitiraj Nonghanpitak, chief of the Thai Central Investigation Bureau (CIB), told a press briefing in Bangkok on Thursday.
He called the haul one of the largest ever in Thailand. Thailand’s southern border region is notorious as a hub of cross-border criminal activity, including human trafficking and the smuggling of narcotics.
More than 10 Malaysian suspects were paraded at the briefing at the CIB office, where confiscated backpacks, each containing several packets of crystal meth and heroin, were displayed.
The suspects were charged with co-possession of first-class narcotics, but all of them denied the charge. They face jail terms of up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to 200,000 baht (U.S. $5,660), if convicted.
Police Maj. Gen. Sommai Kongwisaisuk, a deputy commander of the CIB, said the heroin was wrapped in 350-gram packets and the Ice in one-kilo packages.
In Bangkok, the price of a packet of heroin is estimated at 500,000 baht (U.S. $14,154), and a one-kilo packet of Ice fetches 300,000 to 500,000 baht (U.S. $8,494 to $14,154), police said.
Lt. Gen. Thitiraj said the smugglers stayed away from roads.
“Highway police had check points so they used a train instead. Some of the packets are wrapped with [aluminum foil sheets]. There are some X-ray machines that cannot see through foil. I believe some couriers smuggled by air as well,” he said.
Surge in smuggling via rail
Pol. Col. Putidej Boonkrapru, a railway police supervisor, said trains became the preferred mode of transportation a few months ago, leading railway police to step up their anti-drug campaign.
Sommai said the 15 gang members boarded first-class, air-conditioned train in separate cars.
Based on a police detective tip, railway officers arrested the first two suspected couriers, who were carrying 23 kilos of Ice while in Rajaburi province, some 150 km (93 miles) west of Bangkok. He said the police later managed to trace 12 others and made more arrests as the train kept traveling south.
Suspect paid to carry drugs from Chiang Mai: Malaysian diplomat
One of the suspects said he was paid to carry a backpack from northern Thailand, but didn’t know what was inside it, Fauzi Khan Ismail, an official with the Malaysia embassy in Bangkok, told reporters.
The courier was paid 5,000 baht (U.S. $141) per packet, Fauzi said. Each backpack on display contained more than 10 packets.
“They got this consignment in Chiang Mai. So they couriered these drugs to Hat Yai, [because] it is close to the Malaysian border,” said Fauzi, who represented the Malaysian government at the press briefing.
His country wants to work with other Southeast Asian countries to eradicate the drug trade, Fauzi said.
“In Malaysia, we are facing lot of drugs problem also. Since January this year, our narcotics department, two or three times, they busted big groups,” he said.