x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

New task force targets contraband

Dubai Customs creates a specialist team to fight the multibillion-dollar trade in drugs, weapons and other contraband.

An Afghan man collects resin from poppies in an opium poppy field  south of Kabul, Afghanistan on  May 21, 2008. Due to Dubai's geographical location, the emirate currently straddles a busy drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan and Iran.
An Afghan man collects resin from poppies in an opium poppy field south of Kabul, Afghanistan on May 21, 2008. Due to Dubai's geographical location, the emirate currently straddles a busy drug trafficking route out of Afghanistan and Iran.

DUBAI // Dubai Customs has created a specialist team to fight the growing multibillion-dollar trade in drugs, weapons and other contraband. The 120-strong unit's main aims are to detect drugs, explosives, weapons and fake goods and help the global fight against terrorist activity. Its creation is in part a response to a rise in drug trafficking through the UAE. Dubai Customs said it had recorded a 79 per cent increase in the detection rate of smuggled heroin in 2006 to 2007.

The UN has highlighted Dubai as a transient point for heroin from Afghanistan, which accounts for 90 per cent of the world's supply. The heroin trade is worth US$64.8 billion (Dh238bn) annually. The team will also focus on the trafficking of methamphetamine, a stimulant drug whose use is growing in the Middle East. Mohammad al Marri, the executive director of Dubai Customs, said the team would operate at every entry point in the emirate, using the latest technology and detection methods available, and would work with international and UAE-based security and intelligence agencies.

"We are one of the only customs administrations in this whole region to use scanners, sniffer dogs and X-ray radiation, and to train all its staff in those operating disciplines. "The techniques used by smugglers were outside of the Dubai Customs' reach until it authorised the special team," Mr Marri said. Every officer in the squad has undergone intensive training in countries that manufacture its detective equipment and has access to in-house training.

"Staff are trained and reviewed regularly to ensure the development continues," Mr Marri said. He added that the main focus now was "not to increase the number but to improve the training and skill and the knowledge" of those already in the team. Dubai is at the centre of narcotics trade routes and drugs from Afghanistan are not the only ones being seized. "We have to deal with drugs being smuggled from Europe, Africa and from East Asia, so there isn't just one country to focus on. Part of our approach is not to differentiate between shipments from countries, as they could all potentially have prohibited and illegal materials," Mr Marri said.

The creation of the team is the latest attempt to counter the smuggling of contraband. In August, Dubai Customs said they had equipped agents with a mobile laboratory to help them detect drugs, explosives and radioactive material. The Dh700,000 laboratory can identify a sample of suspect material by matching it to a database of more than 60,000 substances in a matter of seconds. Eight officers are trained to operate the equipment, which is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mr Marri's force is mandated to gather intelligence, stop and search and call on international assistance to arrest those involved while shipments are on route to Dubai. "Dubai has recently acquired and adopted new techniques of electronic management of information, and profile set-ups against certain smuggling techniques," Mr Marri said. "Our inspectors have access to these whenever they require it."

He added that customs officials were now profiling traders in order to assign them a rating, allowing them to differentiate between potential traffickers and genuine traders. "We identify who are our pure traders within the country. We set their profile, we give them a profile accreditation in accordance with their trading activities within Dubai and so we eliminate having to go through validation and verification of their cargo unless we discover them acting outside their profile, or due to intelligence information."

Companies who have come to Dubai Customs' attention, through financial irregularities, document discrepancies or previous smuggling cases, will have their cargo systematically checked. "We have a blacklist of companies that we monitor through our processes at the point of entry," Mr Marri added. shafez@thenational.ae