A tip-off from Australian Federal Police to their Thai counterparts has led to the arrest of two men and the seizure of 150 kilograms of heroin before it could be packed in seafood and shipped to Australia.
Secretary-General of Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board told local media the men, Malaysian national Yi Yong Ho and his Thai accomplice, Kritsana Meenant, were allegedly using a seafood export company’s office in Ranong, in Southern Thailand.
Pongsapat said Australian authorities notified Thai officials that “a large batch of heroin would be sent to Australia”.
Thai narcotics police with the aid of the AFP tracked the suspects, especially Yi, who made several trips to Bangkok and Ranong last November. He returned to Ranong in February.
Late on Tuesday, Yi and Kritsana returned to Ranong, allegedly to take the heroin to the company’s office for repacking.
The seized heroin, which Thai authorities put at 147 kilograms while the AFP in a statement said weighed 168 kilograms, had a potential street value of up to $95 million in Australia.
The seized heroin was said to be sourced from Myanmar, the world’s second-biggest producer after Afghanistan of opium – the raw material of heroin. The heroin was packed in 420 small packets and hidden in 23 boxes of seafood, Pongsapat said.
In Australia, AFP national manager serious and organised crime Assistant Commissioner Ramzi Jabbour said the force’s international network played a key role in assisting Thai authorities to disrupt the drug syndicate.
Jabbour said intelligence obtained by AFP that a transnational organised crime syndicate was planning to import “a significant quantity of heroin into Australia from Thailand” led to the combined investigation with the Royal Thai Police.
Australia has stepped up regional cooperation, including with Indonesia and Pakistan, in recent years in a bid to stem the trade in both opiates and amphetamine-type stimulants, according to the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The UNODC, in its annual report for 2013, warned of an upsurge in cultivation of opium poppy, “threatening the positive gains made over the past decade”.
A dramatic increase in demand for heroin in East and Southeast Asia has led to Afghan opium reportedly being smuggled to the region to meet demand, where an estimated one quarter of the world’s opiate users live.
In China, there were a reported 1.3 million registered opioid abusers in 2012.
The UNODC also criticised the use of “medically supervised injecting centres” in Sydney, saying such facilities “contravene the principle of the international drug control treaties that drugs should be used only for medical and scientific purposes”.