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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs    6 July 2012

Indonesia in the sights of global drug gangs


In January, an Iran-based international drugs ring hired a cargo vessel to stop at a secluded area off Ujung Genteng Beach, Sukabumi in West Java, Indonesia.

They then transferred the drugs to waiting local boats that were not required to go through immigration and custom inspections.

The police intercepted the transfer, and a shootout claimed three lives. Three Iranians and a Thai citizen were arrested and prosecuted.

This was a new modus operandi in drug trafficking, compared to the common method of swallowing drugs or hiding them in courier’s shoes or luggage.

Narcotics division director of the Indonesian Police Detective Agency, Brig. Gen. Arman Depari, said a favourite method now was "shipping the drugs under different names to cargo terminals in various seaports and airports".

Increased distribution of drugs is one factor in what officials say is a rise in drug abuse today. Depari said international syndicates from Iran, Malaysia and China, had been influential through their local distributors, given "abundant funds to finance their operations here". Authorities have yet to catch up with them, he said.

Jatmiko, head of the intelligence section at the airport customs office, confirmed that 17 out of 20 recent foiled drug smuggling attempts were through cargo delivery services at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, while the other three were detected at the arrivals gate.

By sending drugs through delivery services, "the syndicate doesn't risk losing the courier if the delivery is spotted by authorities", Jatmiko said.

The National Narcotics Agency (BNN) operational director, Brig. Gen. Benny Mamoto, added that seeking asylum-seeker status had also become a strategy to smuggle couriers into the country.

"We have detained some Iranians and other countries’ nationals who had used their asylum-seeker status to get through crystal methamphetamine packages," he said.

Mamoto said the Iranian syndicate was a new player compared to their Malaysian and Chinese counterparts.

He said their role was first noticed when they assisted opium producers from Afghanistan in distributing their products into Asian countries, including Indonesia.

"Then these Iranians apparently learned to produce their own versions and tried to distribute the products themselves, once they knew how to run the business," he said.

Mamoto said five years ago the best crystal meth (known locally as shabu-shabu) in the market was made in some regions in China.

"But today we find that the Iranian syndicate can produce shabu of better quality," he said.

A narcotic courier requesting anonymity confirmed that crystal meth from the Iranian narcotics ring was considered the best in the market.

Amir Abdoli, head of Public Diplomacy of the Iranian Embassy, said that he was aware of the involvement of some of his fellow countrymen in the drug-smuggling business.

"I have noticed that they have been arrested here and have been brought to justice," he said without further elaboration.

According to the police's narcotic division, as many as 79 Iranians have been taken into custody since 2009 over narcotics and drug-smuggling charges.
Depari said as with other drug cartels, most of their "goods" were transported through couriers and cargo.

Several couriers of various nationalities have testified that they were paid between 5 million rupiah ($535) to 10 million rupiah ($1070) per delivery.

Though illegal drug users account for a tiny percentage of the population, their number is increasing. The latest data records drug users reaching 2.2 per cent of the country's 240 million population, or 3.8 million people, young and old, exposed to narcotics and drugs of various kinds.

This figure is an increase from 3.3 million people or 1.9 per cent of the population in 2008.

Depari said an indication of the higher demand for crystal meth and ecstasy pills is "the increasing numbers of both shabu and ecstasy pills found in raids by the authorities".

BNN has recorded that the authorities managed to confiscate 826,096.25 ecstasy pills last year, a rise of 94.6 per cent from more than 424,000 pills in 2010.

As for crystal meth, the authorities recorded an even more significant rise: as many as 1,092,029.09 grams of the substance were confiscated last year, a rise of 208.4 per cent from over 350,000 grams in 2010.

A recent survey by the BNN and the University of Indonesia’s Health Research Centre helps explain why Indonesia is a potentially lucrative market for the international drug rings.

Although a small percentage, the increase in drug users was in line with previous data produced by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes in 2009.

It stated that up to 272 million people aged 15 to 64 around the globe, or 3.3 per cent of the world’s 6.7 billion population at the time, were consuming various kinds of narcotics and drugs.

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