Meth Trafficking is Riding Super Highway of Global Trade (Part 2)

The use of human mules to traffic illegal drugs, one of the most time-tested and expendable methods, is decimated by the closure of national borders resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this development has the unintended effect of drug cartels shifting to take advantage of legitimate supply chains to facilitate drug trafficking. Methamphetamine, one of the most profitable illicit drugs, is going along for the ride. By Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade

Hitching a ride on the super highway

Incidentally, Southeast Asia’s global supply chain connectivity, regional integration, free trade agreements, special economic zones, and status as a global pharmaceutical and chemicals manufacturing hub provide favorable conditions for drug trafficking to thrive.

As countries in Southeast Asia simplify trade and customs procedures in conjunction with developing their economies, there is a shift of emphasis from border management control to facilitation. However, drug cartels are also expanding their illicit trafficking alongside growing legitimate trade flows. They are embedding illegal drugs into the legal movements of freight and goods across borders.

On 2 Nov, the Hong Kong customs authority announced that a record haul of half a ton of crystal meth, worth US$39 million, was seized. The meth was hidden in 251 bags of cement in a shipping container on its way from Mexico to Australia, that arrived at the city on 29 Oct.

Authorities decided to search the container after their suspicions were aroused by the circuitous route it was taking. The shipment had been to South Korea and Vietnam before arriving in Hong Kong, and was expected to go on to Singapore and then to Australia, its final destination, where the meth could potentially worth five times more.

For the first nine months of 2020, the Hong Kong customs confiscated 244 kg of meth, a 280 percent increase over the same period last year. The Hong Kong authorities said that most of the trafficking was conducted through freight transport, postal services and express delivery.

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