x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UN praises Emirates' arrest of drug ring

Police from Dubai and Sharjah have won plaudits from the UN's global anti-drugs agency for smashing an Afghan smuggling ring.

Alleged drug smugglers with 202 kilograms of drugs seized are seen in this handout from the Sharjah Police.
Alleged drug smugglers with 202 kilograms of drugs seized are seen in this handout from the Sharjah Police.

UNITED NATIONS // Police from Dubai and Sharjah have won plaudits from the UN's global anti-drugs agency for smashing an Afghan smuggling ring and seizing 202 kilograms of heroin earlier this month. Acting on a tip, officers from the two emirates swooped on warehouses purportedly housing legitimate fruit and vegetable businesses, seizing about US$11 million (Dh40.4m) worth of drugs and arresting 19 suspects. The raid resulted in what has been described as the biggest heroin seizure in the Arab world and this week received the UN's official seal of approval as a key moment in the global battle against drugs. "This is a spectacular success for the law enforcement authorities," said Mohammed Abdul-Aziz, the Middle East and North Africa representative for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). "Devious as the traffickers were, the police were always one step ahead. "I congratulate the Sharjah and Dubai police for their co-operation, daring and professionalism." The Afghans allegedly smuggled drugs inside the empty fuel tanks of lorries that were being privately imported, using powerful petroleum fumes to conceal traces of heroin from customs officials. Officers believe the UAE was used as a staging post for shipping the drugs overseas, although there is evidence some members of the ring were selling drugs on the local market. After receiving a tip that the suspects were packaging, processing and stockpiling drugs in Sharjah warehouses, officers from the two emirates launched a covert operation and spent two days raiding commercial and residential buildings across Sharjah. Forensic tests later revealed the heroin had been mixed with other substances to increase its potency and fetch higher prices. Dubai police is among the most proficient anti-narcotics agencies in the region, thanks to a seven-year technical assistance programme with UNODC that has been praised by Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, the commander-in-chief of Dubai police. UN experts have trained some Dubai officers in surveillance and intelligence, improving their search techniques, data analysis and execution of covert operations. "Obviously the training is paying off," Mr Abdul-Aziz said. Anti-narcotics police who have graduated from the UNODC programme have passed on their skills to other officers across the UAE and in Iraq, sharing key techniques in the fight against organised crime. According to the World Drug Report 2008, Afghanistan had a record opium poppy harvest last year, nearly doubling the worldwide illegal opium production. While the UAE has relatively few heroin addicts, UN experts warn of increased amphetamine use across the Arabian peninsula. According to the report, seizures of amphetamines in the sparsely populated Gulf exceeded the combined confiscations of the drug in the US, China and Britain. Officials most fear the spread of a synthetic drug called captagon, which is mass-produced in illegal laboratories in Bulgaria and Turkey before being trucked through Syria and Jordan and distributed throughout the Gulf from Saudi Arabia. The report documents how Saudi amphetamine seizures mushroomed from only 291 kilograms in 2000 to a staggering 12.3 tonnes in 2006. In the same year, Omani officials confiscated two tonnes of illegal stimulants, while smaller shipments were seized in the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. jreinl@thenational.ae