Oranges, car wheels and live sheep: bizarre items smugglers used to hide Captagon in 2021

Millions of the synthetic methamphetamine pills were intercepted this year

Fake oranges filled with Captagon pills that were distributed among boxes containing real fruit. The shipment was intercepted by customs and anti-drug teams at Beirut port, in the Lebanese capital, on December 29, 2021.  The nine million Captagon pills were destined for an unnamed Gulf country, Lebanon's Interior Minister Bassan al-Mawlawi said.  AFP

Captagon use exploded across the Middle East in 2021.

The synthetic drug, amphetamine fenethylline hydrochloride, is colloquially called by the brand name Captagon. It was first created in the 1960s and used to treat mental health conditions before being banned in the 1980s because of its addictive qualities.

The drug is the most in-demand narcotic in the Middle East, and millions of the beige pills have been intercepted by Gulf authorities in 2021. The practice even sparked a diplomatic row between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, causing Saudi Arabia to halt the importat of all fresh fruit and vegetables from their neighbour.

As customs agents and law enforcement grow more practised at foiling drug smuggling, criminals are trying increasingly bizarre ways to try to outwit authorities.

Chrysler wheels and sleeping quarters

On the last day of 2021, Saudi Arabia announced that customs agents had found more than 1.4 million Captagon tablets in six different shipments. Using sniffer dogs and scanners, they found pills in car and truck radiators and even inside the wheels of a Chrysler 300C saloon car.

One truck had thousands of the pills stashed under the driver's sleeping cabin.

Live sheep guts

Kuwait authorities foiled a drug smuggling operation when 17 kilograms of amphetamines were found in the bellies of sheep. Kuna

Kuwaiti authorities foiled an attempt to smuggle 17 kilograms of Captagon in the intestines of live sheep in November.

“Seventeen kilograms of amphetamine were found hidden in the guts of imported sheep and were seized by officials in the presence of the Minister of Interior Sheikh Thamer Al Sabah in the Kabd area, west of the country,” state news agency Kuna reported.

Plastic lemons and oranges

Plastic fruit also become a method for smuggling. In December, Lebanese customs officers found millions of Captagon pills in plastic bags concealed in fake oranges, alongside real ones. The customs directorate said several people were arrested in connection with the smuggling attempt.

The haul was on the way to Kuwait.

Dubai police also found pills in plastic lemons in December. The 3,849 boxes of lemons had 66 boxes of plastic lemons mixed in. The street value of the drugs was estimated at $15.8 million.

Fresh pomegranates

In this photo released by Saudi Press Agency, a Saudi custom officer opens imported pomegranates, as customs foiled a attempt to smuggle millions of Captagon pills, which they said where coming from Lebanon, at Jiddah Islamic Port, Saudi Arabia, Friday, April 23, 2021. Saudi Arabia will ban Lebanese fruits and vegetables entering the kingdom or passing through it because those shipments have been increasingly used to smuggle drugs, the official news agency reported Friday. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

In April, a shipment of more than 5.3 million pills from Lebanon were discovered by Saudi authorities hidden inside pomegranates. Representatives of the Lebanese agriculture industry told The National that the shipment had originated in Syria.

The drug haul seized at Jeddah Islamic Port prompted Riyadh to ban imports of fruit and vegetables originating from or transiting through Lebanon.

Tomato paste

Again in Saudi Arabia, customs officials found a cache of 2.14 million pills in a shipment of tomato paste at the Al Haditha border crossing.

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Updated: December 31st 2021, 3:55 PM