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Drugs seizures triple and arrests double in just a year, UAE anti-narcotics chief says

ABU DHABI // The amount of certain drugs seized in the UAE has almost tripled, while the number of drug-related criminals arrests has more than doubled in a year, according to the head of anti-narcotics at the Ministry of Interior.

Lt Col Saeed Al Suwaidi said the production of Captagon and crystal methamphetamine in the GCC had gone through the roof in recent years because of political turmoil and security challenges that created loopholes in which criminals can flourish.

The number of pills seized in the UAE rose by nearly 290 per cent, from 11 million in 2015 to 42.5 million last year.

“The GCC is increasingly becoming a target of drug trafficking,” said Col Al Suwaidi at the Unity for Security Forum in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.

“The number of people arrested [in the UAE] in relation to drugs – smugglers and users – rose from 173 in 2015 to 391 in 2016, so there is a clear targeting of the Gulf. It’s a challenge we are enduring.”

Seizures of Captagon, a cheaply produced psycho-stimulant used and exported by extremists fighting in Syria, have increased in the Middle East and North Africa, including the UAE.

“Regional turmoil has affected the manufacturing of Captagon and we are seeing a massive rise in its smuggling, especially to the UAE and other GCC countries,” said Col Al Suwaidi. “This isn’t just for profit, it goes beyond – to destroy people and get them addicted.”

He said the UAE was taking the required steps to face this smuggling challenge and it is investing heavily in anti-narcotics departments.

“The process of promoting drugs to a large extent in the country has been happening through addicts and drugs traffickers outside the UAE,” he said. “The money transferred for these crimes ranges from Dh1,000 to Dh3,000 on average through banks and exchange centres.”

Of the more than 500 money transfers analysed by the ministry through exchange centres in the past few months, only 20 centres were found to be used for drug payments and 80 per cent of the transactions were done through only two centres.

“This calls for huge collaboration with the private sector, especially banking, to uncover perpetrators and to put in regulations to prevent abuse of these services by the drug trade,” said Col Al Suwaidi. “The private sector must live up to its responsibility like the Government is, and play a role in prevention.”

Anti-narcotics experts said the Middle East, which is known as a transit point for Captagon, had now graduated to the level of producer and abuser.

The annual global profit generated from illegal drugs is estimated at about US$300 billion (Dh1.1 trillion). “This shows how fruitful the market is and how attractive it is to individuals,” said Dr Ibrahim Abdu, associate professor of law and regional commander of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency in Nigeria.

“Anyone who thinks drugs are leaving us as a crime is highly mistaken, but boosting the capacity of law enforcement all over the world by Interpol would be a good solution.”

The nature of cyberspace and a lack of information has also made it increasingly difficult to tackle the illegal drug trade.

“In this globalised world, drugs flow rapidly across countries and continents,” said Nestor Roncaglia, chief of Argentina’s Federal Police.

“We need a database that analyses all the practices, routes and people involved. This will give us a point of reference to have as a base, which can be useful in all investigations throughout the world.”

Interpol is creating an intelligence analysis file for data collection.

“The first approach is to collect and analyse data from the 190 member states,” said Daoming Zhang, coordinator at the Interpol Drugs Unit. “It will soon be in place.

“We notice national authorities don’t talk to each other, so we must forge synergies at national levels, build trust and establish concrete measures, not just during the investigation, but after it.”

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The National