x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

New unit has global drug trade in its sights

General Department of Combating Narcotics aims to minimise appeal of the Emirates to drug barons by educating youngsters.

DUBAI // A new anti-narcotics unit will take the fight against drugs beyond the UAE's borders as the country increasingly becomes a target for international drug smugglers, the chief of police said yesterday. As well as tackling drug-related crime domestically, the new General Department of Combating Narcotics will work with overseas forces to break up international drug rings. Lt Gen Dahi Khalfan Tamim, the chief of Dubai Police, said a separate department was needed to handle the growing number of drug-related crimes.

Better staffed and with more independence than its predecessor, which was part of the Criminal Investigation Department, the new unit will try to make the UAE less attractive to drug barons by teaching youngsters the dangers of substance abuse. "Now is the right time for the arrival of a department with expanded staff, anti-drugs experts and a head that will be dedicated and focused only on fighting drug crimes," Gen Tamim said. "The CID will also be free to focus on criminal work."

Gen Tamim said a growing concern about Gulf countries being targeted by drug smugglers prompted the establishment of the unit, located at the Dubai Police headquarters compound in Al Twar. "According to UN reports, the spread of drugs in Asia is escalating. Reports also suggest that Arab countries, especially countries in the Arabian Gulf, are at increasing risk," Gen Tamim said. Brig Abdul Jaleel Mahdi, the new department's director, said one his goals was to reduce drug use by teaching young people about its dangers. "Our goal will not be just to arrest the dealers but to create an environment that has no drug demand so that drug dealers will not see a market here," he said.

Most of the drugs in the country are passing through to be later re-exported, he said. The new department would seek out the drug routes taken by dealers and identify the other links in the supply chain.. "It is not enough to capture drug dealers in the country and just close a case. We are interested to know who the supplier, buyer, user is and track them even outside the country," Brig Mahdi said.

In the past year, Dubai Police announced a high number of drug-related arrests in sting operations, many as a result of undercover CID officers posing as buyers. "I consider the high number of arrests made a positive indicator," Gen Tamim said. In August, a South African woman was arrested at Dubai International Airport trying to smuggle 2.3 kilos of heroin worth Dh1.3 million out of the country.

Dubai CID said the woman was preparing to take the drugs to an unknown Asian country. "She was arrested in Aug 12 as she was checking in." Police found four rectangular sachets tucked in between bed sheets in her luggage. "The drugs were wrapped in tape and were perfumed with a fusion of strong-smelling spices and cream in an attempt to disguise the odour of the drug," a CID spokesman said at the time. "If sold in grams, the drug would cost Dh500,000 a kilo," he said.

Dubai Police have seized more than 100kg of drugs in the past year. By law, the sentence for transporting drugs with an intent to distribute them is a minimum of 10 years in jail. The minimum for drug use is four years. rabubaker@thenational.ae