x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Taking the fight to the drug lords

Chief of customs' cargo division Mohammad Matar al Marri thinks reforms will succeed and continues to tackle traffickers.

Mohammad Matar al Marri, executive director of the Cargo Division, Dubai Customs.
Mohammad Matar al Marri, executive director of the Cargo Division, Dubai Customs.

DUBAI // Fourteen years after joining Dubai Customs as a junior officer, Mohammad Matar al Marri finds himself on the front line of the war against drug trafficking. Traffickers have used numerous techniques to conceal their "goods", storing them in shipments of fruit, felt-tip pens, air-conditioner compressors and inside cars.

But the most popular method of smuggling remains inside the human body. Dubai Customs officials nickname these smugglers "containers". However, Mr Marri's reforms and hands-on approach have taken the fight to the traffickers, often leading to the detections and arrest of smuggling networks in both original and final destinations. He admits it is a big problem - like "looking for a needle in a hay stack with the volume of shipments that come to our ports".

However, the executive director of the Cargo Operation Division, Dubai Customs, says he is confident his new methods and a specialist team of 120 highly-trained officers will make the job a lot more effective. He has created a specialist team and introduced new administrative procedures, technologically-advanced detection devices and promoted relations with drug enforcement agencies in the region and abroad.

"We are discovering drug trafficking rings on a regular basis, and working with the Dubai Police and sometimes other international agencies. We seize items and arrest individuals even before their containers reach Dubai, "Smugglers are always changing. They keep looking at new ways and new methods. We have to be prepared. With all the new applied mechanisms and new technology, we are catching more drugs than ever.

He said Dubai Customs had worked on operations to track down the origin of a number of smuggling networks. He believes, however, in keeping the numbers secret. "We like to go about our business on the quiet, focus on the work. Other agencies publicise their catch, but we are only interested in making our department as effective as possible to be the best in the world and win the fight against the traffickers."

One of his biggest tasks is preventing the flow of heroin from Afghanistan, which produces 90 per cent of the world's supply. According to the UN, a large percentage of the Afghan crop travels through Iran before being shipped to transient points for sale in Europe and North America. The rise in heroin use in the Middle East also makes Dubai an attractive stopping-off point. "Dubai lies in the middle of one of the busiest trafficking paths of the heroin industry. Before the war in Afghanistan we had very little smuggling through the UAE, but since the war we are having to deal with it on almost daily basis," Mr Marri says.