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Laos Police Make Asia’s Largest Drug Bust Ever

Police in Laos confiscated more than a ton of methamphetamine recently in what international law enforcement authorities are characterizing as one of Asia’s largest drug busts ever. On October 27, more than 1.5 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine and 55 million tablets of amphetamine were found in a truck travelling in northern Bokeo, Laos. This province borders Thailand and Myanmar and is part of Southeast Asia often referred to the Golden Triangle.

Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia regional representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that the find was “by far the largest seizure in the history of East and Southeast Asia,” according to the BBC.

“It is three times the meth tablets that Laos seized all last year, and close to a third of the crystal meth,” Douglas told the AFP news agency.

Police discovered the record drug haul after receiving a report of a suspicious truck from a resident of Bokeo’s Hoeyxay district. They found 10 million pills in the crates belonging to the Lao Brewery Company after stopping the car. In a statement, the beer company said that it had “no involvement in this case whatsoever”.

“We are deeply disappointed that our crates have been abused as a cover for illegal activities and will not hesitate to take immediate legal action towards anyone misusing our company assets,” the company added.

Officers took the 22 year-old truck driver into custody. Two hours later, the man told police that the drugs were the property of a Hoeyxay 40-year old resident. Police then searched the man’s home, where they found more amphetamine tablets and 65 plastic bags of crystal methamphetamine, or “ice.” Lao National Radio reported that the seized drugs weighed a total of 1,537 kilograms (3,380 pounds), according to media reports.

In a week, third major drug bust

This record seizure is the third in a row of major drug busts in Bokeo Province in a matter of days. A truck headed to Vientiane, the capital of Laos was stopped on October 20th. It contained 10 million pills. Police seized six more million methamphetamine pills from the Tompheung District of Bokeo two days later. However, they could not make arrests.

“The suspects might have fled across the Mekong River to the Myanmar side. They are residents of a small island on the Mekong River on the Lao side,” an unidentified police officer told Radio Free Asia.

Officials from law enforcement said they don’t know whether the recent large-scale drug seizures in Bokeo were related. 

“They might be members of the same drug smuggling network,” the police officer opined.

Trafficking Hotspot: Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle was a key drug-producing region that has been recognized by officials as having international reach. This area is home to a large amount of illicit methamphetamines and stimulants. These drugs are then distributed worldwide by Asian crime syndicates, including New Zealand and Japan.

Douglas stated that Laos saw an increase in illicit drug activity after a February military coup in Myanmar. This has caused unrest along the border. There has been a change in the routes used for drug smuggling in this area due to the strife in Myanmar, Shan in particular. 

“This is related to the security and governance breakdown in the Triangle and Shan Myanmar—spillover is hitting the region,” Douglas said.

Other countries within the region are also contributing to an increase in drug trafficking in Laos. COVID-19 restrictions and security measures on China’s Yunnan border with Myanmar “appear to be at least partly why trafficking has increased east into Laos and south into Thailand” to avoid losses amid the unrest, Douglas added.

“Neighbors and the wider region are getting absolutely flooded with methamphetamine, and there is little doubt it is connected to the governance situation in Shan,” he said.