Undercover police seize 16kg of heroin

A secret operation filmed delivery of a huge haul by two men to a hotel in Abu Dhabi, but two other suspects remain at large.

ABU DHABI // Four men have been charged with trying to sell 16 kilograms of heroin following what is believed to be the largest seizure of the drug in the emirate's history. The Abu Dhabi Criminal Court heard yesterday that the drug had been smuggled into the country inside 215 boxes of fruit. Each box was said to have contained tangerines and about 70 grams of the drug in two plastic bags on either side of the box.

Only two defendants appeared in court yesterday, one Pakistani, identified as SZ, and one Afghan, NA. They were arrested after delivering the drugs to an undercover police officer, and face the death penalty if convicted. The other two accused, Afghans referred to as MZS and SAK and described as the "main partners" in the operation, are being tried in their absence. Prosecutors said they were part of a larger gang.

"We seek the toughest punishment for these people especially because we know the potential effect of these drugs if they were sold to our young people," prosecutors told the court. "Mothers [have] lost their sons and families [have been] ruined because of drugs." A court official speaking after the case said the seizure of the drug by the Abu Dhabi Criminal Investigation Department (CID) was the largest the emirate had seen.

Having been tipped off that MZS was selling drugs in Jebel Ali, an undercover CID officer posing as a client contacted MZS on March 28 - a couple of week's after MZS's arrival in the country - and they agreed on a price of Dh60,000 a kilo, prosecutors said. At first, MZS refused to deliver the drugs to Abu Dhabi island and insisted on making the transaction in a Dubai hotel. But the officer persuaded MZS to deliver to a room in a hotel in Al Rahba in Abu Dhabi, where police had set up cameras to record the deal.

SZ and NA arrived at the hotel car park at 8.30pm. A seven-minute video said to show the drug being delivered to the hotel room was brought to court yesterday but did not play because of technical problems. The video, according to court officials, shows NA speaking on the phone, then picking a plastic bag from a cardboard box and tasting the drugs. A urine test showed NA had traces of morphine in his body; though no traces of drugs were found in SZ's body.

The two defendants told police they had been hired only to deliver boxes and had not known there were drugs inside until it was too late. "[NA] was on the phone with [SAK], who only told him at that moment, at the door, that the boxes contained heroin," NA's lawyer, Mohammed al Ghaffar, told the court. "He then tasted the drugs out of curiosity. He [has] never had drugs in his life before." Mr al Ghaffar said the video demonstrated that NA was unaware of what the boxes contained and, therefore, he had no criminal intention selling drugs.

"[NA] had no job and he was asked to deliver the boxes for a certain amount of money, so he just did it," his attorney said. "These two defendants are only scapegoats and the real dealers are free now." MZS left the country one day after the arrests of SZ and NA. @Email:hhassan@thenational.ae