Lao police have seized a record haul of illicit drugs in the Golden Triangle region in what the United Nations said was Asia’s largest single drug bust ever.
- 55 million meth tablets were seized, as well as more than 1,500 kg of crystal meth
- The drugs were transported in a truck carrying crates of beer
- The Golden Triangle region is notorious for drugs that are often smuggled to Australia and other nations
More than 55 million methamphetamine tablets and over 1.5 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine were intercepted by Lao police on Wednesday, who stopped a truck carrying beer crates in northern Bokeo, which borders Thailand and Myanmar, two sources told Reuters.
Jeremy Douglas, South-East Asia regional representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the discovery was “by far the largest seizure in the history of East and South-East Asia”.
“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,” 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.
It added that the truck in question was not registered with the company or to any of its distributors.
The bust on Wednesday followed the confiscation by Lao police of a combined 16 million amphetamine tablets in two separate busts in the same area over a one week period.
Authorities in Laos did not immediately respond to Reuters request for comment.
Golden Triangle notorious for drug trade
The Golden Triangle — an area of north-east Myanmar that meets parts of Thailand and Laos — has a long history of being a major drug-producing area.
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.
Mr Douglas said the spike in volume of drugs seized in Laos was due to a shifting of smuggling routes inside Myanmar, as a result of unrest in border areas since a coup in February.
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.
“This is related to the security and governance breakdown in the Triangle and Shan Myanmar — spillover is hitting the region,” Mr Douglas said.
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-19.
But despite coronavirus travel restrictions, there has been an “overall sustained expansion of the methamphetamine market in East and South-East Asia”, the UN said in its latest report for the region in June.