The Irrawaddy

Suspect in Malaysia’s Record Meth Haul Arrested in Mandalay

YANGON – Anti-narcotics police on Wednesday arrested a suspected drug dealer in Mandalay division’s Pyin Oo Lwin Township in connection with a record drug haul in Malaysia last month, the Ministry of Home Affairs said.

The suspect, Haj Yassin, 44, also known as Maung Maung, is a resident of Yangon’s Tarmwe Township, police said.

According to Reuters, Malaysian police on May 28 announced their largest ever seizure of crystal methamphetamine, finding nearly 1.2 tons of the drug disguised as tea in a shipment from Myanmar. A quantity of heroin was also seized. The haul had an estimated worth of about USD18 million on the regional market. Three Myanmar nationals and a number of Malaysians were arrested. Malaysian authorities said the drug syndicate responsible is based in Myanmar.

According to a statement issued yesterday, police obtained prior information that Haj Yassin was traveling to Mandalay from Pyin Oo Lwin Township in a van belonging to a private automobile association. Police searched the car at the 16-mile checkpoint on the road between the towns at around 12 a.m. on June 5. Police from Pathein Gyi Township and members of the anti-narcotics police unit brought the suspect to Yangon in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

Based on information from Malaysian police, Myanmar authorities learned that the drugs were shipped in container log No. FSCU 9911521, belonging to Yangon-based trading company Nice Guy Clearance Service Agency. Customs servicing company U Kaung Trading told police that the container was listed as containing exported foodstuffs. Police said they arrested another suspect on June 2, but Haj Yassin had evaded arrest, traveling to various places in the country in a Toyota Lexus since May 30. The statement did not provide the names of all the suspects or the employees of the customs servicing company who were involved.

The container ship Pathein Star is seen on marine traffic website. (Screengrab / The Irrawaddy)

The authorities opened a case under Anti-narcotics Law Section 20 (a) (b) and Section 22 against Haj Yassin. Section 22 stipulates that whoever produces, distributes, sells, exports or imports stimulant pills shall be punished by a minimum 15-year jail term, and may also face an unlimited period of imprisonment or the death penalty.

The Home Affairs Ministry said other suspects testified that Haj Yassin stored the meth pills at the Nice Guy purified drinking water factory, located in Hlegu Township. The suspect allegedly transported the drugs by car to a store in lower Pazundaung Township and then loaded them, disguised as packaged tea goods, at the port. The statement did not elaborate on how the suspect successfully passed the items through an X-ray machine at Myanmar Industrial Port (MIP), where customs officers and government officials usually check every single cargo shipment.

Police confiscated about 25 million kyats worth of gold and jewelry, a Toyota Lexus found parked under the Tarmwe flyover, a premium book and purchasing contract as well as receipts for jewelry from the suspect’s house in Tarmwe Township. Police seized 2.8 billion kyats from two private banks and have temporarily frozen bank accounts belonging to Haj Yassin. Servicing agents unrelated companies explained to The Irrawaddy that trading companies need an export declaration as well as an X-ray exam clearance for all shipments. Even after those two steps are successfully completed, each cargo shipment still needs approval from the Customs Department. It’s unclear whether the authorities intend to take action against Customs officers or not. The Irrawaddy phoned Anti-Narcotics Police officer Colonel Shwe Nyan Maung for comment on Tuesday but without success. Other high-ranking officers declined to answer specific questions.

According to some marine tracking websites, container Log. No. FSCU 9911521 was leased to Sinokor, based in Mayalaysia’s Penang port. The Home Affairs Ministry’s statement did not elaborate on the name of the shipping line or the port of loading in Yangon. The Irrawaddy has learned that container ship Pathein Star V.017S, owned by Pathein Star PTE Ltd, was the only one that entered Myanmar Industrial Port during the Myanmar Water Festival period. It departed on April 16 and arrived at the Klang Multi-Terminal on April 19. The vessel normally operates between Yangon, Penang, Port Kelang and Singapore.

On June 2, Bangladeshi media outlet the Dhaka Tribune reported that the country was facing a huge narcotics problem in the wake of the arrival of nearly 700,000 Rohingya in Cox’s Bazar district following the Myanmar military’s clearance operations aimed at wiping out the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army after the latter attacked about 30 border outposts in late 2017. Army and other security forces were accused of human rights violations including extrajudicial killings and gang rapes by international rights groups, and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) urged the government to accept a credible investigation team to look into alleged right abuses right after a visit in May.

Based on information from Bangladeshi intelligence and narcotics police as well as testimony from Rohingya refugees, the report stated that 37 drug factories exist in Shan State, most of them in areas controlled by ethnic armed organizations, and some being protected by militia groups backed by the Myanmar Army. The report said the factories largely produce meth pills, which are smuggled to neighboring countries Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh and China. About 14 groups are behind the factories, it said. They reportedly smuggle the drugs to Yangon and then to northern Rakhine State, and finally into Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar. It said more than 500 Rohingya drug dealers and 1,000 drug “mules” had entered Bangladesh since the Army crackdown on ARSA began last year.

Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner, an expert on issues related to Myanmar’s ethnic armed organizations, recently reported on Bangladesh authorities’ brutal crackdown on drugs for the Asia Times. The report compared the anti-narcotics crackdown to the Philippines’ ongoing war on drugs, saying at least 110 drug suspects have been gunned down by police since the campaign began on May 14. Authorities have arrested about 9,000 suspects in the space of a few weeks.

On June 2, Thai authorities seized nearly 15 million meth pills from a truck in northern Chiang Rai province, worth an estimated Bt3 billion on the street. Thai police believe the illicit stimulants were produced by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in a remote area of Myanmar under its control. The UWSA is the strongest armed organization among Myanmar’s rebel groups.