The Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) is stepping up its vigilance for drug smuggling by post as crime syndicates diversify their distribution methods to outsmart officials and move illicit narcotics across the country.
In a special interview with the Bangkok Post, the ONCB’s deputy secretary-general, Piyasiri Wattanavarangkul, said drug smugglers are increasingly using postal services as their preferred option to evade authorities’ detection.
As a result, the frequency of smuggling and amounts of narcotics seized are on the rise, he said.
Between October last year and June this year, authorities arrested 12 suspects involved in large-scale drug trafficking and confiscated more than 2.76 million methamphetamine pills, 3.5 kilogrammes of crystal meth, known as ya ice, and more than 3,000 kilogrammes of cannabis, he said.
Drugs in the post
Mr Piyasiri said that traffickers have changed the way they smuggle drugs.
“Drugs are hidden in postal packages and delivered [to cities] from local post offices in remote rural areas in northernmost provinces,” he said.
Hmong hill tribespeople living along the border in the North package narcotics as harmless consignments and have them delivered by private delivery companies.
“Often, Bangkok and the four southern border provinces — Narathiwat, Yala, Pattani and Songkhla are the final destinations,” Mr Piyasiri said.
“Some 2.5 million speed pills were found recently to have been sent from Chiang Rai’s Mae Fa Luang district and Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district to Pattani and Songkhla,” he said.
“Mae Fa Luang and Mae Sai districts in Chiang Rai border a known drug production base in a neighbouring country,” he said.
He was referring to Myanmar’s Shan State where armed ethnic groups are alleged to be heavily involved in drug production.
Mr Piyasiri said Chiang Khong, Wiang Kaen and Thoeng districts in Chiang Rai, as well as the districts of Phu Sang and Chiang Kham in Phayao are also used by Hmong drug couriers as smuggling routes.
The ONCB is working with the Royal Thai Police’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau to crack down on drugs smuggled by these means, which have only contributed to the wider and faster distribution of illegal drugs across the country, alongside the continuing use of more conventional smuggling methods.
“Moreover, early this year we also found that illegal drugs were sent by Hmong people via international postal service from Laos to South Korea,” Mr Piyasiri said.
This shows drug dealers’ attempts to evade detection by Thai authorities by choosing to send the drugs from a neighbouring country instead, he said.
“These illicit drugs would have been sold across the whole region if they had gone undetected,” Mr Piyasiri said.
The ONCB has devised measures to deal with the problem, including alerting postal and courier service operators in the areas where such cases are reported.
Mail sorting centres where parcels and packages are processed for delivery to other countries have also been told to keep an eye out for illicit drugs, Mr Piyasiri said.
Anti-drug police have also been asked to use X-ray scanners to detect any drugs hidden in packages, he said.
Delivery and logistics service companies are also required by law to record the identities and the ID card numbers of senders and receivers of packages as a means to help tackle the problem, he said.
If any packages are suspected of containing illegal drugs inside, they must inform ONCB officials within 15 days so they can step in and act.
“Failure to do so is an offence and violators are liable to a fine of between 10,000 and 100,000 baht and suspension or revocation of their operating licences,” Mr Piyasiri said.
In addition to the North, the ONCB is also keeping a close watch on areas in the upper Northeast, including Loei’s Pak Chom and Chiang Khan districts, as well as many areas in Nong Khai.
These areas are being used as alternative routes in case drugs cannot be moved on routes in northern provinces for any reason, Mr Piyasiri said.
These routes are convenient for moving drugs across the Mekong River from Laos with transit points on the Lao side of the border, he said.
Meanwhile, surveillance is also being ramped up in areas in the lower Northeast as drugs found to have been smuggled across the border in Ubon Ratchathani’s Khemarat district where the Mekong River narrows and its large rocky outcrops and islets can be used as transit points for cross-border drug smuggling, he said.
There is also another major drug trafficking network operating in Laos’ Savannakhet Province, establishing links with drug dealers in the deep South, he said.
The Myanmar government has intensified crackdowns on drug syndicates in the country, he said.
Under Operation Golden Triangle 1511, Myanmar authorities have destroyed numerous drug production facilities and seized large amounts of narcotics and drug precursors, Mr Piyasiri said.
Operation Golden Triangle 1511 is a joint anti-drug initiative involving China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The “Golden Triangle” is a notorious production hub for drugs where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet.
“Thailand benefits from Myanmar’s drug crackdown as it helps curb an influx of illegal drugs, particularly speed pills and crystal meth, across the border,” he said.
This also helps prevent the distribution of the drugs to a wider range of countries, he said.
”Currently, we are focusing our energy and resources on seizing assets belonging to drug syndicates to cut off their financial lifelines, which in turn will emasculate their networks as a whole,” Mr Piyasiri said.
Between October last year and July 27, authorities confiscated more than 9.7-billion-baht worth of drug-related assets, he said.
He also urged the public to provide authorities with tip-offs about drug trafficking via its 1386 hotline. He said information provided by calls to the service had already proved valuable. On one occasion, a tip-off led police to seize about 5 million speed pills in Phrae’s Den Chai district in January.
The deputy ONCB secretary-general also warned people to stay away from drug networks.
They are also urged not to be lured into opening bank accounts for drug dealers to conduct their financial transactions as this violates the Narcotics Code and violators will face a jail term of up to three years and/or a fine of up to 60,000 baht, Mr Piyasiri said.
Piyasiri Wattanavarangkul, deputy secretary-general Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB). ONCB