x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Drugs cases dominate Dubai courts

Crimes involving narcotics are the most common to come before courts in Dubai, authorities reveal.

Alleged smugglers in Sharjah with 202kg of seized narcotics; seizures of hashish, opium and heroin all rose last year.
Alleged smugglers in Sharjah with 202kg of seized narcotics; seizures of hashish, opium and heroin all rose last year.

DUBAI // Drug crimes are the most common type of case to come before the Dubai criminal courts, authorities have disclosed, as police outline tough new measures to keep narcotics out of jails. Despite harsh penalties for drug offending, the crime has represented the largest group of cases to be heard by the courts in the past eight months, the chief justice of the Dubai criminal courts, Ahmad Ibrahim Saif, said in an interview.

Since September, 231 drug-related cases were heard by Dubai courts. This compares with 214 dishonesty offences, ranging from theft to embezzlement, 78 cases of forgery and identification fraud, 45 sex crimes and 45 cases of violent offending. Justice Saif said drug cases, often linked to abuse, had represented the largest group for some time. Drug abuse cases are the most common despite the law being very tough on drug crimes in an attempt to curtail such offences, he said.

Most drug offences carry a minimum jail term of four years, while the penalty for smuggling with intent to distribute is 10 years and a fine of Dh50,000 (US$13,600). Trading in narcotics, which includes selling relatively small quantities, can carry a life sentence, or even the death penalty in the most serious cases. The figures have been released as police prepare to introduce scanners capable of detecting drugs inside human bodies into all prisons and police holding cells.

The prevalence of drugs has been identified as a serious issue by law enforcement officials both domestically and internationally. A report released by the UN's International Narcotics Control Board in February said the UAE had become a "major exporting and trans-shipping area" for highly addictive drugs, such as heroin and amphetamines. While praising the Government's increased efforts to tackle the drug trade, the report criticised what it saw as a failure to take "adequate measures" against criminals or collect data about the scale of drug abuse within the country.

Major General Khamis Muttar al Mazeina, the deputy chief of Dubai Police, said one measure to tackle the drug flow was the introduction of X-ray machines at all prisons to prevent narcotics from reaching detainees. "Anyone who enters a police station will have to be checked by the device," he said. "Every individual passing through will be subjected to very rigorous searches including visitors, policemen, jail guards, jail workers such as food servers and cleaners and inmates," he said. "The device will expose drugs hidden in items of clothing, in foods or goods carried on or inside the body itself."

Manual checks of inmates and visitors have not always been successful in preventing narcotics from being smuggled through, because carriers will often conceal them in sensitive areas that are not subjected to searches. "The machine will be a big step forward in our efforts to fight drug smuggling," he said. Guards will continue to carry out physical checks, and anyone leaving a prison or holding cell for medical attention will also be checked on their return.

This week, a man was caught trying to smuggle an illegal substance to a detainee who was receiving medical attention in Rashid Hospital. "In some cases, there will be an arrangement between an inmate and someone from the outside to traffic drugs," said Gen al Mazeina. "They could arrange to meet in a hospital washroom or in a washroom at the courts when they are being taken for sentencing or a hearing and that's where the exchange and hiding of the substances would take place."

Earlier this year, Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the chief of Dubai Police, said drugs were being smuggled into jails despite searches of all visitors. "No one is allowed to enter jail without being thoroughly searched," he said. "However, in some cases inmates or their visitors hide the drugs in places which cannot be touched." In January, a 23-year-old Emirati died of a heroin overdose in a holding cell, and the family have still not been told how the drugs were able to reach him. An official said that 30 people were caught trying to bring drugs into prisons last year.

Police also want to outlaw Spice, a branded synthetic smoking mixture with cannabis-like effects that has been sold internationally since 2002. Gen al Mazeina said the drug should be added to the list of banned substances. Earlier this year, Lt Col Hassan al Shamsi, head of the Ministry of Interior's anti-narcotics department, said 50 nationalities were involved last year in drug use, possession and trafficking, though he did not give the number of people involved.

The quantities seized in the country in 2008 included 1,013kg of hashish, 379kg of heroin and 23kg of opium. In 2007, authorities confiscated 858kg of hashish, 177kg of heroin and 9kg of opium. rbaker@thenational.ae hbathish@thenational.ae