Police bust 'devilish' drug smuggling plot

Dubai and Saudi authorities say their yearlong investigation has smashed a multinational operation to smuggle millions of Captagon pills from Europe into the Middle East.

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DUBAI // Dubai and Saudi police say they have smashed a multinational operation to smuggle millions of Captagon pills from Europe into the Middle East.

The year-long investigation, dubbed Operation Fox Hunt, led to the arrests of six people and seizures of a total of 11 million pills worth about Dh550 million, police said yesterday. The drugs were to be shipped to the UAE and then on to Saudi Arabia.

"This operation foiled this criminal syndicate's devilish plot, which could have introduced 11,000 Arab youths, at least, to drug addiction," Maj Saeed bin Tuwair, head of the international anti-narcotics section at Dubai Police, said.

The operation began in late 2009 with the arrest of a Syrian man who had smuggled more than four million pills into the UAE and was attempting to transport them to Saudi Arabia. Maj Gen Abdel Jalil Mahdi, head of the Dubai Police anti-narcotics department, said interrogation revealed that a syndicate had planned to transport a total of three shipments of the pills from two unnamed European countries to an unnamed Arab country, then to Saudi Arabia through the UAE.

"Of all the narcotics seized, a portion was destined to the UAE market while the majority was intended for the Saudi Arabian market," Maj Gen Mahdi said.

The operation was conducted in three stages, Maj bin Tuwair said.

"After the first tip-off from the Saudi Arabian authorities, which resulted in the largest narcotics seizure in Dubai and the arrest of [the Syrian], the information gathering and location of the criminal syndicate was facilitated through the co-operation of the Saudi authorities and another Arab country," he said.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, the Minister of Interior, also presented the investigative team with all they required, according to Maj bin Tuwair, including unprecedented access to information sources.

"Intelligence gathered showed that the criminal syndicate received two shipments from two European countries that were destined for shipment to the UAE," he said.

These were the second and third shipments to follow the first shipment that was seized from the Syrian arrested in Dubai. The arrests of three more suspected syndicate members in the UAE and two in Saudi Arabia led to the seizure of two million pills in Al Ain and five million pills in another Arab country, before they could be smuggled into the UAE.

Dubai police are still pursuing other members of the syndicate; those already in custody outside the country will be brought to the UAE to face justice, officials said.

The Syrian suspect arrested at the beginning of Operation Fox Hunt was sentenced on October 29 to life in prison.

Captagon is a synthetic stimulant invented in 1963 to treat conditions including narcolepsy and depression. It is not as powerful as cocaine, but is addictive and popular in the nightclub scene because it gives users the energy to dance for hours on end.

Captagon is the most popular drug in the Arab world because it is also thought to enhance sexual performance, experts say. But it can lead to feelings of anxiety and even aggression.

Men tend to take the drug for its stimulating effect while women also use it as a weight-loss drug. Young people use the drug to stay awake to study as well as for social gatherings, experts say.

According to a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report issued in July 2008, Saudi Arabia has seen a sharp rise in Captagon abuse.

Saudi authorities seized 12.3 tonnes of the drug in 2006, compared with 291 kilograms just three years earlier. The UN office also ranks Saudi Arabia as the biggest consumer of stimulants in the region. Thedrugs, according to the UN office, are often trucked from Bulgaria and Turkey through to Syria and Jordan before being distributed throughout the Gulf.

Last year's seizure was the latest of a string in the UAE, and by far the largest ever pill seizure in Dubai.