Updated at 12:33 p.m. ET on 2018-04-04
Thai authorities seized about $68.6 million (2.14 billion baht) worth of meth in three caches in the past week and arrested 11 suspects, officials said Tuesday, underscoring a U.N. report describing Thailand as a major transit point for drug trafficking in Southeast Asia.
Police seized 788 kilograms (358 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine and more than nine million meth pills from an abandoned pick-up truck early Tuesday in the northern Chiang Rai province, near the Mekong River, police Lt. Gen. Sommai Kongvisaisuk, commander of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB), told reporters in Bangkok.
The river divides Thailand and Laos and is within the drug-producing region known as the Golden Triangle, which includes parts of northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.
The seizure came a day after police seized 651 kilograms (295 pounds) of crystal meth in Songkhla province, in the country’s Deep South, officials said. On March 28, police also seized 703 kilograms (319 pounds) in the southern province of Chumphon.
The drugs were trafficked into northern Thailand by a syndicate that uses the Mekong River in order to smuggle meth into Malaysia, police Maj. Gen. Chayapoj Hasunha, chief of the NSB's intelligence division, told BenarNews.
“Malaysia has become a hub to distribute the drugs through Indian Ocean, Australia, United Kingdom, Europe and North America,” he said.
Drug-related arrests in Thailand are on the rise, with at least 900 arrests so far this year, compared with 453 in 2017, NSB officials told a news conference last month.
The “steep increase” in seizures of meth in Southeast Asia denotes a growing demand of the drug in the region, where 287 million methamphetamine tablets were seized in 2015, according to the 2017 report of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
Most of those seizures took place in Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, UNODC said.
Thai police said a meth pill worth 200 baht (U.S. $6) in Thailand could be sold up to 500 baht (U.S. $16) in Malaysia and even more in Australia, one of the world’s largest consumer of crystal meth.
On March 20, a Thai court sentenced Xaysana Keopimpha, a Laotian dubbed as an “ASEAN Drug Lord,” to life in prison over narcotics-smuggling charges.
The 43-year-old headed a transnational Southeast Asian network that supplied millions of caffeine-laced methamphetamine tablets known as “yaba,” Thai authorities said after they arrested him in January 2017 at Bangkok’s main airport.
The market for crystal meth, a potent central nervous system stimulant, has grown rapidly in recent years in the country, which has about 2.89 million drug users in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available, according to the UNODC report.
“Transnational criminal groups continue to target Thailand as a major transit location for the trafficking of illicit drugs and precursor chemicals to international markets, and also as a destination country for illicit drugs,” the report said.