Targeting users in upscale neighbourhoods, organised syndicates have been smuggling in high-priced crystal meth over the last few years, much to the concern of law enforcers and narcotics control officials.
The highly addictive drug, also nicknamed ice, arrives in Bangladesh from Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar, and the syndicates often use expatriates travelling back home as carriers, according to investigators.
At least two to three consignments of the drug, each weighing around 0.5kg-1.5kg, have arrived every month over the last three years through the country's various airports, mostly from Malaysia.
It is sold to affluent people living in upscale neighborhoods -- 10g at minimum Tk 1 lakh, said Detective Branch officials.
Crystal meth is the common name for crystal methamphetamine, a powerful drug that affects the central nervous system. It comes in the form of clear crystal chunks or shiny blue-white rocks.
Use of the drug poses high risks of stroke, heart attack, teeth decay, and permanent hallucinations, among other short and long-term health effects, according to the website of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Smugglers use different techniques such as calling it a "gold-melting chemical" to deceive law enforcers, according to the officials of Dhaka Metropolitan Police, which is currently investigating a case regarding the smuggling and sale of crystal meth.
The case was filed following the arrest of six people from Bashundhara, Gulshan and Banani areas in the capital on November 4 last year. During the drive, the arrestees were found in possession of around 600g crystal meth.
The six include the drug syndicate's Bangladesh chapter leader Chandan and his sub-dealers Siraj, Ovi, Jewel, Rubaiyat, and Canny, said officials.
Chandan, a gold shop owner, used to sell the drug in broad daylight -- saying it was a chemical for melting gold, they added.
Police later arrested a female dealer of the syndicate -- Nusrat -- after collecting information from the six. A readymade garments factory owner, she is allegedly involved in maintaining a drug network of around 50 people.
Officials investigating the case said all the arrestees themselves were crystal meth addicts.
Regarding the Malaysian connection, investigators said they have already identified three people, including a relative of Chandan, mainly responsible for maintaining the racket from Malaysia.
Assistant Commissioner of DB police Javed Iqbal Pritom told The Daily Star recently that they have already collected some details of the smugglers living abroad.
The DB official, however, refused to disclose further details for the sake of investigation.
COMES BY AIR, LAND
Crystal meth was found arriving in Bangladesh through different airports until last month.
On February 25, Rab-7 arrested two drug peddlers with this drug during a raid in Muzaffarnagar area of Chattogram.
The arrestees were identified as Shafiul Alam, 34, and Yasin Rana, 50. The elite force recovered 150g of crystal meth from their possession.
"We have primarily come to know that the consignment entered Bangladesh from Myanmar but it may have originated from another country," said Major Musfiqur Rahman of Rab-7, involved with the operation.
Replying to a question, he said a clandestine market of crystal meth has started to grow in Bangladesh.
On Wednesday, a team of the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) recovered 2kg of it from Teknaf upazila.
DNC officials said the consignment came to Myanmar from Thailand and then entered Bangladesh through the Teknaf border, an established gateway for yaba. Its destination was Dhaka.
On June 28, 2019, DNC arrested a Nigerian national from Dhaka with around 500g of ice. It was learnt that the drug came to the man, Ajah Anayochukwa Onyeanwusi, through a parcel service from Uganda.
On February 27, the department busted a narcotic manufacturing lab and recovered five grams of crystal meth from Jhigatola in the capital. The drug reportedly came from Thailand to Bangladesh, said DNC officials.
According to an intelligence official, methamphetamine goes to Myanmar from Thailand and China to be used in making yaba. Sometimes, Bangladesh and India are used as a transit route, said the official.
SMUGGLED IN TRAVELLERS' BAGS
Syndicate members often convince expatriates that they want to send a gift to their relatives living in Bangladesh and then put the drug inside gift items like packets of coffee and tea, chocolate boxes or blankets, according to investigators.
The drug is also hidden in silica gel packets, and if anyone asks, the expats are coached to say that these are used for removing moisture, they said.
In a majority of cases, the syndicate's local members receive the packets from the airport as soon as the expatriates clear customs and other checks on arrival.
Quoting the arrestees, a high official of DB said if any expatriate refuses to bring a package to Bangladesh, the syndicate would convince him or her by offering an expensive gift.
HIGH SOCIETY CUSTOMERS
Investigators claim to have gathered information of over 100 users of ice in the country -- the list includes businessmen, private university students, and youngsters from rich families in Dhaka.
These users mainly became addicted to the drug when they went abroad and they provide it at parties they throw for their friends in the country, said a DB official.
Users take crystal meth by smoking, snorting, injecting directly into the body, or taking in the form of tablets.
Once friends at these parties show interest in the drug, the hosts then provide it, said the official. "Ice dealers never sell it to unknown people, and they provide home delivery," he added.
DB AC Javed Iqbal said they are now looking for drug users to get further details of dealers as they are known to each other and interconnected.
Associate Professor at the National Institute of Mental Health Mekhala Sarkar told The Daily Star recently that the effects of ice are devastating.
"Ice-addicted people may face hallucination, delusion and even schizophrenia-like symptoms may develop. Symptoms of paranoia are likely to develop among the patients.
"If an addict takes this drug for a long period, the person might face depression and may behave abnormally. Physical problems like hypertension, stroke, brain hemorrhage and sexual dysfunction may be observed among the patients," she added.
CRYSTAL METH TRAVERSING BORDERS
In the fourth bilateral meeting between the DNC of Bangladesh and Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) of Myanmar on December 15 last year, Myanmar's officials claimed that they have seized around 16.8 tonnes of ice from January 1 to November 30, 2020.
They also claimed that ice and amphetamines were mainly smuggled from China and Thailand to Myanmar, according to sources present at the meeting.
Director (intelligence and operation) of DNC Kusum Dewan, told The Daily Star recently that they were surprised and worried to know about such a huge quantity of ice recovered in Myanmar.
"We have already increased our vigilance and started collecting information about the sources of ice," added the DNC director.
DB police said they have come to know that the persons involved in smuggling crystal meth from Malaysia are also involved in smuggling the drug from China and other countries.
HM Azimul Haque, deputy commissioner of DB (Ramna Division) police, said they have already arrested a number of people and drives are on to arrest others involved in smuggling ice.
This drug is more hazardous than yaba, he told this paper, saying people should be made aware and alerted about the side effects of crystal meth.
On February 14, Abdur Rauf Mia, a deputy secretary of the home ministry, directed the DNC to implement the decision of setting up scanners and dog squads at airports and land and river ports to detect narcotics entering the country.
The decision was taken in the first meeting of the national narcotics control advisory committee, held on December 27 last year, virtually presided over by Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal.