Laotian police have carried out Asia’s biggest-ever single seizure of illegal drugs, finding more than 55 million methamphetamine pills in the back of a beer truck, a United Nations official confirmed Thursday.
The Southeast Asian country has in recent years been a gateway for drug traffickers moving meth shipments out of Myanmar’s troubled Shan state and into Thailand and beyond.
On Wednesday, police stopped a truck carrying beer crates in Laos’ northern province of Bokeo, which borders Thailand and Myanmar.
“The 55.6 million meth tablets and 1,537 kg of crystal meth reported by Laos late yesterday is a record for a single seizure in the region,” UN Office of Drugs and Crime regional representative Jeremy Douglas told AFP.
“It is three times the meth tablets that Laos seized all last year, and close to a third of the crystal meth,” he said.
Local media said authorities questioned the driver of the truck — which was ferrying crates of Beerlao — leading them to a nearby house where two men were detained.
Beer maker Lao Brewery issued a statement denying any involvement in the drug smuggling case and insisted it has strict anti-drug policies.
“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’s assets,” it said.
It added that the truck in question was not registered with the company or to any of its distributors.
– Golden Triangle glut –
Wednesday’s massive haul comes as the so-called Golden Triangle region sees a surge in its multi-billion-dollar methamphetamine and synthetic drugs trade.
Myanmar’s Shan state remains the main source of the meth, which is often smuggled on to wealthier overseas markets such as Australia and Japan in its more potent crystallised form.
Experts say the February coup — when the Myanmar military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power — and the country’s subsequent economic collapse have exacerbated the problem.
Parts of Shan state are controlled by ethnic armed groups and its civilian and legal administration sits outside the jurisdiction of the central government.
Authorities in Thailand have stepped up patrols along the border shared with Myanmar and Laos since the pandemic began to discourage illegal crossings for fear of the spread of Covid.
But despite coronavirus travel restrictions, there has been an “overall sustained expansion of the methamphetamine market in East and Southeast Asia”, the UN said in its latest report for the region in June.
The glut of meth pills has sent street prices of tablets plummeting in Bangkok and other Southeast Asian cities.