May 9, 2019 - U.S. indicts operators of 'dark web' drug referral service
U.S. prosecutors have filed money laundering charges against two Israelis who allegedly made millions of dollars operating a website connecting customers to sellers of fentanyl, heroin, guns and other illegal goods, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

May 7, 2019 - Two Israelis arrested in global 'dark' Internet probe
Two Israelis have been arrested on suspicion of setting up a "dark" Internet site that was used to buy weapons, drugs and stolen credit cards, Israeli police said on Tuesday.

The suspects, in their mid-30s, were arrested during a joint investigation with the FBI and Israel’s cyber crime unit. Further arrests were made in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Brazil.

“The suspects were arrested after setting up an Internet site that was in the ‘dark’,” the police said in a statement.

“The dark internet site was used for illegal activities and crimes. “The site had been active for a long period of time and millions of dollars of transactions had been made on the site.”

The police said the site guided users to other sites used for illegal activities and crimes which were being investigated.

“The sites worked together covering each other and marketing illegal actions and transactions,” police said, adding that the transactions were made using Bitcoin.

The two Israeli suspects are due to appear before a Tel Aviv court. No further details were given.

Three German nationals accused of running one of the world’s largest dark websites for selling drugs and other contraband were arrested last week and charged in two countries following a two-year investigation.

A fourth man who allegedly acted as a moderator and promoter for the site was taken into custody in Brazil.
Twenty-two suspects have been arrested across Europe in a coordinated operation against a drug smuggling gang, European police agency Europol said on Wednesday.

Suspects arrested across Europe in drug gang investigation: Europol
Twenty-two suspects have been arrested across Europe in a coordinated operation against a drug smuggling gang including the suspected ringleader, a 48-year-old Latvian man who was arrested in Spain's Huelva, police said on Wednesday. Rough cut (no reporter narration).

Europol said the suspected ringleader, a 48-year-old Latvian, had been arrested in Spain. The other suspects were detained by police in Poland, Lithuania, Spain and Britain.

The agency described the operation as the largest of its kind, with 40 houses searched on May 15 and 16, resulting in the seizure of 8 million euros ($8.92 million) in cash, diamonds, gold bars, jewelry and luxury cars.

Mexico to auction Lamborghini, other seized assets to help poor
A police officer stands near a Lamborghini Murcielago 2007, part of the fleet of vehicles seized by the government from politicians and organized crime as part of an auction in Mexico City, Mexico May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

Mexico's government will auction a Lamborghini, homes and other assets seized from gangsters and at least one former politician, officials said on Tuesday, part of a "Robin Hood" program to use millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains to aid the poor.
U.S. seizes $1 billion worth of cocaine from ship in Philadelphia

Federal authorities seized 16.5 tons of cocaine worth more than $1 billion from a ship in Philadelphia in one of the largest drug seizures in U.S. history, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.

Federal, state and local law enforcement agents on Monday boarded the MSC Gayane, a cargo ship docked in Philadelphia's Packer Marine Terminal, and found cocaine in seven shipping containers, according to a criminal complaint filed in Philadelphia federal court.

Federal authorities arrested and charged two of the ship’s crewmembers Ivan Durasevic and Fonofaavae Tiasaga. Both men told investigators how they helped load the ship with cocaine during its voyage, the criminal complaint showed.

“This amount of cocaine could kill millions - MILLIONS - of people,” Philadelphia-based U.S. Attorney William McSwain said on Twitter, announcing the seizure on Tuesday. His office estimated the value of the cocaine seized at more than $1 billion.

The ship was in Chile, Peru and Colombia and Panama over the last month, according to Reuters vessel tracking data.

The cargo ship owner Mediterranean Shipping Company said in a statement that it was aware of the incident and that it has a history of working with U.S. law enforcement agencies to help disrupt illegal narcotics trafficking.

The seizure ranks among some of the largest in U.S. history including a bust of 21 tons of cocaine in California in 1989 and 14 tons of cocaine confiscated in Texas during the same year.

Cocaine remains one of the most widely used illegal drugs in the United States, where most of the world’s cocaine is consumed, according to federal officials.

“There are troubling early signs that cocaine use and availability is on the rise in the United States for the first time in nearly a decade,” the U.S. State Department said in a global narcotics trade report in 2017.
Greek authorities have seized what they described as the world's largest single haul of super-charged amphetamine Captagon pills from Syria worth more than half a billion euros.

Greece seizes record amount of amphetamine Captagon shipped from Syria
July 5, 2019 - Coastguard and drug enforcement officers seized three containers full of the amphetamines, the financial crimes unit (SDOE) said on Friday. The operation involved 20 officers and landed 5.25 tons of the drig - 33 million Captagon pills - found in the containers shipped from Syria.

“It is the largest quantity that has ever been seized globally, depriving organized crime of proceeds that would have exceeded $660 million (587.45 million euros),” the financial crimes unit said in a statement.

Captagon is one of several brand names for fenethylline hydrochloride, a drug compound belonging to the family of amphetamines, stimulants of the central nervous system.
FENTANYL is a gatewy to Mass POSESSION!
I just spent 2 months trying to get my youngest son off it, he eventually got a methadone program. 2 weeks later he upped and gone! No news... Ziltch! We have just been through hell to bring him back to life and he just waltzes out without a goodbye. We flew him from the Okanagan valley to the Laurentians where he just made our life absolute hell! He is POSESSED, theres no other word... And I had seen it before!
So sorry guimondaniel, that's awful. I would say he's definitely physically 'possessed.' And perhaps possessed by spirit attachments as well. The addiction takes control plain and simple. It's really his battle to win or lose. Methadone is pure evil too as it's almost impossible to get free from.
Asia-Pacific meth drug trade worth up to $61 billion, U.N. says
FILE PHOTO: Police officers arrange seized drugs before a news conference at Office of the Narcotics Control Board in Bangkok, Thailand September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Police officers arrange seized drugs before a news conference at Office of the Narcotics Control Board in Bangkok, Thailand September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo

Transnational crime groups are trafficking vast quantities of methamphetamine made in Southeast Asia, the United Nations said on Thursday, putting the value of the Asia-Pacific market for the drug between $30.3 billion and $61.4 billion.

The explosion in the meth trade, from an estimated $15 billion in 2013, comes as powerful syndicates exploit endemic graft, weak law enforcement and lax border controls, the United Nations added.

“In many parts of Southeast Asia, the systematic payment of bribes at borders is as regulated as the payment of fees in official bureaucratic systems,” the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a report.

The cartels, based in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Thailand, produce most of the meth in northern Myanmar in industrial-scale labs and distribute it as far away as Japan and New Zealand.

“The Asia-Pacific meth market is now the biggest in the world,”
Jeremy Douglas, the agency’s representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, stated.

“Of all the organized crime types, meth trafficking is the most dangerous and the most profitable. It underpins the growing power of these transnational crime groups.”

The most valuable markets in Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea account for $20 billion, or a third of the high-end estimate of the trade, the agency added.

More than 12 million users in East Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand consumed about 320 tonnes of pure methamphetamine last year and a record 120 tonnes was seized by law enforcement.

Crystal meth is mostly consumed by middle-class party-goers in developed countries. In poorer nations, users take it as tablets mixed with caffeine, often to help cope with grueling work in factories and at construction sites.

Mushrooming poorly regulated casinos in Southeast Asia offer criminals an easy way to launder illicit earnings, the agency said, and such funds can go through the formal banking system in wealthy Singapore and the financial hub of Hong Kong.

“There has been a proliferation of casinos, something that is rarely talked about and deserves attention,” said Douglas, adding that Southeast Asian casino numbers have swelled to 230 after a money-laundering crackdown in the gambling hub of Macau.

Responding to Thursday’s report, a Thai senator offered to join hands with the agency and other nations to fight the menace.

“We are ready to take a leadership role and work with UNODC and international partners to build resilience and address cross-border trafficking,” said Prajin Juntong, who is also a former deputy prime minister.

Organized crime groups also fuel a rising trade in counterfeit goods and medicines, people-smuggling and trafficking of wildlife and timber, the report added.

“Wildlife and timber trafficking is also an emergency,” said Douglas, calling for a joint combat effort. “Extinction is on the horizon.”
Leader of Kenyan drug organization sentenced to 25 years in U.S.
FILE PHOTO: (L-R) Baktash Akasha, Gulam Hussein, Ibrahim Akasha and Vijaygiri Goswami are briefed by their lawyer Cliff Ombeta at Mombasa Law Courts during a court appearance on drug-related charges in Mombasa February 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Joseph Okanga/File Photo

A leading Kenyan drug trafficker, Baktash Akasha, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by a U.S. judge on Friday after he pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to import heroin and methamphetamine and other crimes.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero in Manhattan sentenced Akasha, 42. Prosecutors described Akasha as the leader of a crime family called the Akasha organization, a major smuggling operation connecting the poppy fields of Afghanistan to European and U.S. cities. In his guilty plea, Akasha also admitted to bribing officials in Kenya.

His brother, Ibrahim Akasha, has also pleaded guilty in the case and is scheduled to be sentenced by the same judge in November.

Baktash Akasha took control of the organization after his father, Ibrahim Akasha, was killed in a shooting, according to authorities.

Prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Baktash Akasha.

His lawyer, George Goltzer, asked for a sentence close to the legal minimum of 10 years. Goltzer argued the lighter sentence was warranted because Akasha was caught in a sting operation and never actually brought any drugs into the United States “They want a life sentence without an American victim, without drugs in the United States,” he said during the hearing.

Just before he was sentenced, Akasha apologized to his friends and family as he asked the judge to show “mercy.” Goltzer said after the sentence that the judge had been “very thoughtful,” but declined to comment further.

The case stemmed from a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration probe into the Akasha organization, leading to the extradition of the brothers to the United States from Kenya in January 2017 along with Gulam Hussein, a Pakistani national charged with heading a drug transportation network, and Vijaygiri Goswami, an Indian businessman accused of managing the organization’s drug business.

The four defendants were arrested in Mombasa, Kenya, in November 2014 in a U.S.-led sting operation, in which authorities said the Akasha organization provided 99 kilograms (218 lb) of heroin and two kilograms of methamphetamine to DEA informants posing as drug traffickers.

A fifth defendant accused of working with the Akasha organization, Muhammad Asif Hafeez, was arrested in London in August 2017. The United States has requested his extradition.

The Akasha family has been involved in the drug trade for years, according to U.S. diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks. The Satao Project, a private company focused on fighting poaching, has said the Akasha network was also linked to around 30 tons of ivory seizures.

Older businesses around the Bay Area have been swept with sudden closures in recent weeks, and now another San Francisco business joins that list. Mr. Smith’s, a Mid-Market nightclub and cocktail lounge, quietly closed its doors after 15 years.

Last month, Max Young, owner of Mr. Smith’s, wrote an email to Mayor London Breed and District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney to express his frustration over widespread drug use and dealings just outside his business.

The lack of action taken on this issue and other stressors ultimately led to the closure, according to Young.
“As of today I closed my business, Mr. Smith’s,” Young wrote in the email dated Aug. 31, according to the Examiner. “Rampant open-air drug dealing and drug use has completely taken over my block. My employees quit, my customers disappeared, no one wants to be on my block, including me. As a native San Franciscan it makes me sick to say that.”

In what appears to be sheer criticism of the city, Young continued his email by stating that throughout his tenure he has employed San Franciscans, supported local businesses and paid his taxes.

“I’ve done my job. You need to do yours,” Young wrote.

During a Monday Board of Supervisors Rules Committee hearing, Haney said that he had received many emails from residents and business owners who have asked him to address drug dealing issues in SF. The city might be a step closer to that after Haney secured $200,000 from the 2019 city budget process to fund a proposal that will create a street-level, drug dealing task force, the Examiner reported.

In an April hearing that Young attended, Haney shared that in 2018 there was a total of 259 people who died from drug overdoses in the city. Of those, 89 deaths were attributed to fentanyl overdoses in 2018, according to a report by the Chronicle's Lauren Hernández.

The structure will remain under Young's ownership, but it's unclear what will become of it in the future.

India seizes one ton of ketamine on boat, arrests six Myanmar crew

Indian Coast Guard personnel keep watch on a Myanmarese ship’s crew after seizing 1,160 kilograms of Ketamine drug from their boat near Car Nicobar islands. (India’s Ministry of Defense/AFP)

September 22, 2019 - NEW DELHI: India’s coast guard has arrested six Myanmar men and seized $42 million worth of ketamine after spotting a suspicious vessel in the Indian Ocean near the Nicobar Islands.

The 1,160-kilogram drug haul came after coast guard aircraft spotted the boat, which had its lights off, on Wednesday in India’s Exclusive Economic Zone, the defense ministry said in a statement.

The boat’s crew did not respond to radio calls and the coast guard eventually boarded it, with officials finding “57 gunny bundles of suspicious substance” on Friday.

“Preliminary analysis ... revealed that the suspicious substance was ketamine and there were 1,160 packets of 1kg each onboard the vessel,” the ministry added.

The six Myanmar men and cargo were taken to Port Blair, the capital of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where they were questioned by investigators.

They claimed they left Myanmar on September 14 and were due to rendezvous with another boat “operating near the Thailand-Malaysia maritime border line” on Saturday, the statement said.

The Nicobar Islands are located near Southeast Asia, off Myanmar’s coast. Parts of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand are in the lawless “Golden Triangle” zone, the world’s second-largest drug-producing region after Latin America.

Large amounts drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine are churned out in remote jungle labs each year and smuggled across Asia and beyond.
Former U.S. Army interpreter from Iraq gets 30 years for dealing fentanyl on dark web
October 3, 2019 - An Iraqi immigrant who worked as a U.S. Army interpreter was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Thursday for dealing the powerful opioid fentanyl over secret online networks, leading to the drug death of a Marine, prosecutors said.

Alaa Mohammed Allawi, 30, who pleaded guilty to drug and weapons charges, was also ordered to forfeit his San Antonio, Texas home, a Maserati sportscar, firearms, jewelry, his stake in a California-based coffee franchise and nearly $50,000 in U.S. and crypto-currencies.

Authorities said it marked the first prosecution of a fentanyl distribution case involving the darknet and crypto-currency. The terms “dark web” or “darknet” refer to networks and sites hidden from most internet visitors and accessible only to users shrouded in anonymity.

“From his use of the dark web, to his clandestine manufacturing of counterfeit pills laced with fentanyl, to his drug sales targeting college students, Allawi operated with little concern for the people in our communities,” Will Glaspy, Drug Enforcement Administration special agent in charge, said in a written statement.

Defense attorney Anthony Cantrell said Allawi had accepted responsibility for his actions but as an immigrant had not been aware of the full dangers of fentanyl.

“As he told the judge today, ‘When I left Iraq I didn’t know what a credit card was,’” Cantrell said. “It’s a very poor country. He realizes that the U.S. is a great country. He made a very bad mistake and accepted the consequences of it.”

Fentanyl is a cheap, relatively easy-to-synthesize opioid painkiller 50 times more potent than heroin.

Prosecutors say the case against Allawi, who came to the United States in 2012, stemmed from an investigation into a surge of prescription pills at the University of Texas, San Antonio campus.

In pleading guilty in June as part of an agreement with prosecutors, Allawi admitted purchasing industrial-sized pill presses from a since-shuttered darknet web site called Alpha Bay in 2015.

He acknowledged using Alpha Bay to sell oxycodone laced with fentanyl, Adderrall containing methamphetamine and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, accepting seven different crypto-currencies as payment.

A U.S. Marine corporal died after taking one of the pills at a 2017 party while stationed at the Camp Lejeune, North Carolina base. Allawi was arrested that same year.

Of eight people named in the indictment three have been sentenced, including Allawi. Five have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. A ninth defendant has been charged separately.

Honduran president denies protecting brother caught in U.S. drug probe
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez arrives to a news conference at the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa, Honduras October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said on Thursday he had never intervened to protect anybody, after his brother was accused of smuggling tons of cocaine into the United States for years under Hernandez's protection.

Explainer: U.S. drug trial of Honduran president's brother
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez holds a news conference at the Presidential House in Tegucigalpa, Honduras October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera

A U.S. prosecutor on Wednesday accused Honduran politician Juan Antonio "Tony" Hernandez of smuggling tons of cocaine into the United States under the protection of his brother, President Juan Orlando Hernandez.

President Hernandez said on Twitter that the allegations against him were “100% false, absurd and ridiculous,” and reiterated denials he was involved in narcotrafficking.

The trial for his brother is unfolding as Hernandez’s administration faces intense pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump to curb migration to the United States.

The president’s brother Tony Hernandez, a lawyer and former lawmaker, was arrested in Miami on Nov. 23, 2018. The unsealed indictment called him a “large-scale drug trafficker” who operated in Colombia, Honduras and Mexico to import cocaine to the United States.

A leader of the Cachiros cartel had testified against him in a March 2017 trial in New York, saying he had taken a bribe to help launder drug funds. Hernandez’s lawyer has denied this.
Two articles detailing a vast Asian meth syndicate. First article is a condensed report - the second, more comprehensively detailed.

Exclusive: Police chase suspected kingpin of vast Asian meth syndicate
Police officers stand around suspects arrested during an operation that, according to police, resulted in the seizure of 1.2 tonnes of methamphetamine in Geraldton, Australia, December 21, 2017. Picture taken December 21, 2017.   Australian Federal Police/Handout via REUTERS

October 14, 2019 - The largest ever task force assembled to fight organized crime in Asia has identified a long-time drug trafficker, a China-born Canadian national, as the suspected kingpin of a crime syndicate that police say dominates the $70 billion-a-year Asia-Pacific drug trade.

The suspected syndicate leader is Tse Chi Lop, 55, an ex-convict who formerly lived in Toronto and has moved between Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan in recent years,
according to counter-narcotics officers from four countries as well as law enforcement documents.

The syndicate he is suspected of running is known to its members as “The Company.” Law enforcers also refer to it as “Sam Gor,” or Brother Number Three in Cantonese, after one of Tse’s nicknames.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP), which has taken the lead in the sprawling investigation, has compiled a list of top syndicate members that identifies Tse as “the senior leader of the Sam Gor syndicate.” The group, the list says, has “been connected with or directly involved in at least 13 cases” of drug trafficking since January 2015.

A flow-chart of the syndicate in a Taiwanese law enforcement document identifies Tse as the “Multinational CEO” of the Sam Gor syndicate. A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) alert circulated among regional government agencies this year says Tse is “believed to be” the leader of the syndicate.

“Brother Number Three is target number one,” said one AFP officer.

According to interviews with regional law enforcers from eight countries, as well as a review of law enforcement documents,
the syndicate produces vast quantities of high-grade methamphetamine in Myanmar and trafficks the drug to countries stretching from Japan to New Zealand. The group is “conservatively” raking in $8 billion a year and could be earning as much as $17.7 billion annually, according to an estimate by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

“Tse Chi Lop is in the league of El Chapo or maybe Pablo Escobar,” said Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for UNODC, referring to Latin America’s most legendary narco-traffickers. “The word kingpin often gets thrown around, but there is no doubt it applies here.”

The syndicate is the major factor in the fourfold increase in region-wide meth trafficking in the past five years, the UNODC says.

The supply of the highly addictive drug has surged, causing the street price to plummet in many countries. In a report in July, the UN agency said the meth trade had reached “unprecedented and dangerous levels,” and was a “direct challenge to the public security and health of the region.”

Triad Alliance ... The AFP has identified 19 top syndicate leaders, four of whom are Canadian nationals, the target list shows. Other suspected leaders hail from Hong Kong, Macau, mainland China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam. Some have links to drug trafficking that go back decades, according to the target list and investigators from four countries, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Tse has not been arrested. Counter-narcotics agents said they suspect he has long been aware he is under surveillance. So far, at least one senior member of the syndicate has been arrested, according to investigators and police documents.

Tse has previously been involved in drug trafficking. In the late 1990s, he was arrested and extradited from Hong Kong to the United States on charges of conspiracy to import heroin into America. He was tried in New York and in 2000 sentenced to nine years in prison, which he mostly served in the federal correctional institution in Elkton, Ohio.

The investigation, which involves about a dozen countries, has been dubbed Operation Kungur. Counter-narcotics agencies from China, Myanmar, the United States and Thailand are also leading participants, along with Australia. Taiwan, while not a formal member, is also assisting.

At the core of the syndicate are at least five triad groups that originated in Hong Kong, Macau, China and Taiwan but which have global reach, AFP officers said. These are the 14K, Wo Shing Wo, Sun Yee On, the Big Circle Gang and the Bamboo Union.

To get its drugs to market, the Sam Gor syndicate works closely with Japan’s Yakuza, Thai organized crime, and Australian motorcycle gangs, among other crime groups, according to regional anti-narcotics agents and documents.

According to regional police sources, the task force has gathered phone intercepts of Tse talking about his drug business, phone call logs linking him to other suspected syndicate members and surveillance footage of Tse with members of the crime group. Reuters has been briefed on this evidence but has not seen it.

The UNODC estimates that the Asia-Pacific methamphetamine trade alone was worth as much as $61.4 billion in 2018, up from an estimated $15 billion just five years earlier. Heroin trafficking was worth up to $10.3 billion in 2018, it said.

The syndicate is suspected to be the major player in both the meth and heroin markets, producing the drugs as well as the hallucinogen ketamine in super-labs in Myanmar’s northeast, where ethnic armed groups control swathes of territory. Police also say the syndicate traffics MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, and cocaine sourced from Europe and Latin America respectively.

Authorities say the drugs are distributed via repurposed fishing vessels that traverse vast distances, hidden in containers aboard other vessels, or transported by vehicles and couriers with backpacks who walk along jungle tracks leading out of the syndicate’s production hub in the heart of Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle.

The full special report, The Hunt for Asia’s El Chapo, can be read here

Slideshow (2 Images)
Exclusive: Police chase suspected kingpin of vast Asian meth syndicate

Special Report: The hunt for Asia's El Chapo
A view of drug paraphernalia in the tent of a homeless drug user in Loikan, Shan State, Myanmar January 25, 2019. Picture taken January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
He is Asia’s most-wanted man. He is protected by a guard of Thai kickboxers. He flies by private jet. And, police say, he once lost $66 million in a single night at a Macau casino.

Tse Chi Lop, a Canadian national born in China, is suspected of leading a vast multinational drug trafficking syndicate formed out of an alliance of five of Asia’s triad groups, according to law enforcement officials. Its members call it simply “The Company.” Police, in a nod to one of Tse’s nicknames, have dubbed it Sam Gor, Cantonese for “Brother Number Three.”

The syndicate, law enforcers believe, is funneling tonnes of methamphetamine, heroin and ketamine to at least a dozen countries from Japan in North Asia to New Zealand in the South Pacific. But meth – a highly addictive drug with devastating physical and mental effects on long-term users – is its main business, they say.

In what it calls a conservative estimate, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) puts the Sam Gor syndicate’s meth revenue in 2018 at $8 billion a year, but says it could be as high as $17.7 billion. The UN agency estimates that the cartel, which often conceals its drugs in packets of tea, has a 40% to 70% share of the wholesale regional meth market that has expanded at least fourfold in the past five years.

This unprecedented boom in meth production has triggered an unprecedented response, Reuters has learned. Tse, 55, is the prime target of Operation Kungur, a sprawling, previously unreported counter-narcotics investigation. Led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Operation Kungur involves about 20 agencies from Asia, North America and Europe. It is by far the biggest ever international effort to combat Asian drug trafficking syndicates, say law enforcement agents involved in the investigation. It encompasses authorities from Myanmar, China, Thailand, Japan, the United States and Canada. Taiwan, while not formally part of the operation, is assisting in the investigation.

A document containing AFP profiles of the operation’s top 19 syndicate targets, reviewed by Reuters, identifies Tse as the leader of the syndicate. According to the document, the organization has “been connected with or directly involved in at least 13 cases” of drug trafficking since January 2015. The document does not provide specific details of the cases.

A Taiwanese law enforcement flow chart identifies Tse as the “Multinational CEO” of the syndicate. A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence document shared with regional government agencies says Tse is “believed to be” the leader of the Sam Gor syndicate.

Some investigators say that the scope of the syndicate’s operation puts Tse, as the suspected leader, on par with Latin America’s most legendary narco-traffickers. “Tse Chi Lop is in the league of El Chapo or maybe Pablo Escobar,” said Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for UNODC. “The word kingpin often gets thrown around, but there is no doubt it applies here.”

During the past year, Reuters crisscrossed the Asia-Pacific to uncover the story of Tse and his Sam Gor network. This included interviews with more than two dozen law enforcement officials from eight countries, and reviews of intelligence reports from police and anti-narcotics agencies, court filings and other documents. Reuters spoke to militia leaders in Myanmar’s Shan State, the heart of Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle, where the syndicate is suspected of mass producing drugs in so-called super-labs. Reuters reporters also visited the Thai compound of one of the syndicate’s alleged drug lords.

What emerges is a portrait of an organization that is truly transnational. Four of the 19 Sam Gor syndicate leaders on the AFP list are Canadian citizens, including Tse, whom police often refer to as “T1” - the top target. Others hail from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam and mainland China.

The syndicate is enormously wealthy, disciplined and sophisticated - in many ways more sophisticated than any Latin American cartel, say anti-narcotics officials. Sam Gor supplies a bigger, more dispersed drug market and collaborates with a more diverse range of local crime groups than the Latin cartels do, including Japan’s Yakuza, Australia’s biker gangs and ethnic Chinese gangs across Southeast Asia.

The crime network is also less prone to uncontrolled outbreaks of internecine violence than the Latin cartels, police say. The money is so big that long-standing, blood-soaked rivalries among Asian crime groups have been set aside in a united pursuit of gargantuan profits.

“The crime groups in Southeast Asia and the Far East operate with seamless efficiency,” says one veteran Western anti-drugs official. “They function like a global corporation.”

In addition to the contrasts between their drug operations, there’s another, more personal, difference between Tse Chi Lop and Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman or Pablo Escobar. The jailed Mexican cartel boss and the deceased Colombian cocaine trafficker have been feted in song and on screen for their extravagant lifestyles and extreme violence. Precious little has been revealed about Tse’s life and career. Unlike the Latin drug lords, Tse is relatively discreet - and still free.

A Trip, A Trap ... Tse Chi Lop was born in Guangdong Province, in southern China, and grew up during China’s Cultural Revolution. Amid the bloody purges, forced labor camps and mass starvation, a group of imprisoned members of Mao’s Red Guard in the southern city of Guangzhou formed a triad-like criminal enterprise called the Big Circle Gang. Tse later became a member of the group,
say police, and like many of his Big Circle Gang brethren moved to Hong Kong, then further afield as they sought sanctuaries for their criminal activities. He arrived in Canada in 1988.

In the 1990s, Tse shuttled between North America, Hong Kong, Macau and Southeast Asia, said a senior AFP investigator based in Asia. He rose to become a mid-ranking member of a smuggling ring that sourced heroin from the Golden Triangle, the lawless opium-producing region where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand, China and Laos meet.

In 1998, according to court records, Tse was arraigned on drug-trafficking charges in the Eastern District Court of New York. He was found guilty of conspiracy to import heroin into America, the records show. A potential life sentence hung over his head.

Through a petition filed by his lawyer in 2000, Tse begged for leniency. His ailing parents needed constant care, he explained. His 12-year-old son had a lung disorder. His wife was overwhelmed. If freed, vowed Tse, he would open a restaurant. He expressed “great sorrow” for his crime, court records show. The entreaties appear to have worked: Tse was sentenced to nine years in prison, spent mostly at the federal correctional institution in Elkton, Ohio. But his remorse may have waned.

After he was freed in 2006, police say he returned to Canada, where he was supposed to be under supervised release for the next four years. It’s unclear when Tse returned to his old haunts in Asia. But corporate records show that Tse and his wife registered a business, the China Peace Investment Group Company Ltd, in Hong Kong in 2011.

Police suspect Tse quickly returned to the drug game. He “picked up where he left off,” said the senior AFP investigator. Tse tapped connections in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and the Golden Triangle, and adopted a business model that proved irresistible to his customers, say law enforcers. If one of his drug deliveries was intercepted by police, it was replaced at no extra cost, or deposits were returned to the buyers.

His policy of guaranteeing his drug deliveries was good for business, but it also put him on the radar of police. In 2011, AFP officers cracked a group in Melbourne importing heroin and meth. The amounts were not huge - dozens of kilos. So, rather than arrest the Australian drug dealers, police put them under surveillance, tapping their phones and observing them closely for more than a year. To the frustration of the Australian drug cell, their illicit product kept getting intercepted. They wanted the seized drugs replaced by the syndicate.

The syndicate bosses in Hong Kong were irate - their other drug rings in Australia were collecting their narcotics and selling them without incident. In 2013, as the patience of the syndicate leaders wore thin, they summoned the leader of the Melbourne cell to Hong Kong for talks. There, Hong Kong police watched the Australian meet two men.

One of the men was Tse Chi Lop. He had the center-parted hair and casual fashion sense of a typical middle-aged Chinese family man, said one AFP agent. However, further surveillance showed Tse was a big spender with a keen regard for his personal security. At home and abroad, he was protected by a guard of Thai kickboxers, said three AFP investigators. Up to eight worked for him at a time, and they were regularly rotated as part of his security protocol.

Tse would host lavish birthday parties each year at resorts and five-star hotels, flying in his family and entourage in private jets. On one occasion, he stayed at a resort in Thailand for a month, hosting visitors poolside in shorts and a T-shirt, according to a member of the task force investigating the syndicate.

Tse was a frequent visitor to Asia’s casinos and fond of betting on horses, especially on English races. “We believe he lost 60 million euros (about $66 million) in one night on the tables in Macau,” said the senior Asia-based AFP investigator.

As the investigation into Tse deepened, police suspected that the Canadian was the major trafficker supplying Australia with meth and heroin, with a lucrative sideline in MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy. But the true scale and breadth of the Sam Gor syndicate only became apparent in late 2016, police say, when a young Taiwanese man entered Yangon airport with a bag of white powder strapped to each of his thighs.

"Aladdin's Cave of Intel" ... Cai Jeng Ze was heading home to Taiwan, walking through the airport with a Jimmy Choo leather bag and two mobile phones. It was the morning of November 15, 2016, and Cai seemed nervous, picking at his blistered hands. This tic aroused suspicion, said a former Myanmar police commander who oversaw the investigation. “His hands were bad because he had been handling the drugs,” the commander told Reuters. “Methamphetamine is very toxic.”

Cai was stopped and searched. Taped to each of his thighs was a small bag containing 80 grams of ketamine, a powerful tranquilizer that doubles as a party drug. “We were very fortunate to arrest him. Actually, it was an accident,” the commander said. Myanmar police, tipped off by the DEA, had been monitoring Cai. But they had lost track of him. Airport police had no idea who he was.

Cai told airport police the bag on his thigh contained a “pesticide or vitamin for flowers and plants,” according to Myanmar court records from his trial for ketamine trafficking. A friend, said Cai, had given it to him to pass on to his father. Cai’s flight was about to leave and there was no drug test for ketamine at the airport, the commander said.

Unimpressed with the explanation, police held him overnight. The next day, anti-narcotic officers turned up at the airport. One recognized him from surveillance work he’d been conducting.

Still, Cai refused to talk. Police say that videos they later found on one of his phones might have explained his silence. The videos showed a crying and bound man, and at least three assailants taking turns burning his feet with a blowtorch and electrocuting him with a cattle prod. In the videos, said one investigator, a sign can be seen with Chinese calligraphy saying “Loyalty to the Heavens.” The banner was a “triad-related sign,” he added.

The tortured man, according to two AFP officers who viewed the video, claimed to have thrown 300 kg of meth from a boat because he mistakenly believed a fast-approaching vessel was a law enforcement boat. The torturers were testing the veracity of the victim’s claims. By filming and sharing the videos, triad members were sending a message about the price of disloyalty, the officers said. Reuters has not seen the video.

The torture videos were just one of the items allegedly found in Cai’s two iPhones. The alleged Taiwanese trafficker was a diligent chronicler of the drug syndicate’s activities, but sloppy when it came to information security. Inside the phones, police say, was a huge photo and video gallery, social media conversations, and logs of thousands of calls and text messages.

They were “an Aladdin’s Cave of intel,” said one AFP commander based in North Asia.

For at least two months prior to his arrest, Cai allegedly traveled around Myanmar cobbling together a huge meth deal for the syndicate, according to a PowerPoint presentation by the Drug Enforcement Division of the Myanmar police outlining its investigation. One telling discovery: a screenshot of a slip from an international courier company recording the delivery of two consignments of packaging, manufactured to hold loose-leaf Chinese tea, to a Yangon address. Since at least 2012, tea packets, often containing one kilo of crystal meth each, had been cropping up in drug busts across the Asia-Pacific region.

Two days after Cai’s arrest, Myanmar police raided a Yangon address, where they seized 622 kilograms of ketamine. That evening, they captured 1.1 tonnes of crystal meth at a Yangon jetty. The interception of the drugs was a coup. Even so, Myanmar police were frustrated. Nine people were arrested, but other than Cai they were lower-level members of the syndicate, including couriers and a driver. And Cai still wasn’t talking.

Then came a major breakthrough. Swiping through the gallery of photos and videos on Cai’s phones, an AFP investigator based in Yangon noticed a familiar face from an intelligence briefing he had attended on Asian drug traffickers about a year earlier. “This one stuck out because it was Canadian,” he recalled. “I said: ‘-flick-, I know who you are!’” It was Tse Chi Lop.

The Myanmar police invited the AFP to send a team of intelligence analysts to Yangon in early 2017. They went to work on Cai’s phones. Australia had been a profitable drug market for Asian crime gangs since the end of the Vietnam War. For at least a decade, the AFP had fed all its historic files on drug cases, large and small, into a database. A senior Chinese counter-narcotics agent described the database, which includes a trove of names, chemical signatures of seized drugs, phone metadata and surveillance intel, as the most impressive cache of intelligence on Asian drug trafficking groups in the region.

The AFP analysts cross-referenced the contents of Cai’s phones with the database. They discovered photos related to three big consignments of crystal meth that were intercepted in China, Japan and New Zealand in 2016, according to investigators and Myanmar police documents. Later, a team of Chinese anti-narcotics officials connected photos, telephone numbers and addresses in Cai’s phones to other meth busts in China.

For regional counter-narcotics police, the revelations upended their assumption that the drugs were being trafficked by different crime groups. It became clear the shipments were the work of just one organization. A senior Chinese anti-narcotics agent said they believed Cai was “one of the members of a mega-syndicate,” which had been involved in multiple “drugs cases, smuggling and manufacturing, within this region.”

Cai was found not guilty in the ketamine case, but is still in jail in Yangon, where he is on trial for drug trafficking charges related to the meth seizures. Reuters was unable to contact Cai’s lawyer.

Meth Paradise ... During his time in Myanmar, Cai is suspected of traversing the country, testing drug samples, organizing couriers and obtaining a fishing boat to transport the illicit cargo to a bigger vessel in international waters, according to police and the Myanmar PowerPoint document. His phones contained pictures of the vehicles to be used to transport the meth, the spot where the meth was to be dropped off, and the fishing boat.

The police reconstruction of Cai’s dealings in Myanmar led to another major revelation: The epicenter of meth production had shifted from China’s southern provinces to Shan State in Myanmar’s northeastern borderlands. Operating in China had provided the Sam Gor syndicate with easy access to precursor ingredients, such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, that were smuggled out of pharmaceutical, chemical and paint factories in the Pearl River Delta Economic Zone. Shan gave Sam Gor the freedom to operate largely unimpeded by law enforcement.

Armed rebel groups in semi-autonomous regions like Shan State have long controlled large tracts of territory and used drug revenues to finance their frequent battles with the military. A series of detentes brokered by the Myanmar government with rebel groups over the years has brought relative calm to the region - and allowed illicit drug activities to flourish.

“Production facilities can be hidden from law enforcement and other prying eyes but insulated from disruptive violence,” analyst Richard Horsey wrote in a paper this year for the International Crisis Group. “Drug production and profits are now so vast that they dwarf the formal sector of Shan state.”

Along the road to the village of Loikan in Shan State, there is evidence of drug-fueled prosperity. The two-lane road skirts a deep ravine known as the “Valley of Death,” where ethnic Kachin rebels from the Kaung Kha paramilitary group clashed for decades with Myanmar’s army. Now, high-end SUVs thunder past trucks carrying building materials and workers. The Kaung Kha militia’s immaculate and expansive new headquarters sits on a plateau nestled between the steep green hills of the jagged Loi Sam Sip range.

About six kilometers away, near Loikan village, was a sprawling drug facility carved out of thick forest. Police and locals say the complex churned out vast quantities of crystal meth, heroin, ketamine and yaba tablets - a cheaper form of meth that is mixed with caffeine. When it was raided in early 2018, security forces seized more than 200,000 liters of precursor chemicals, as well as 10,000 kg of caffeine and 73,550 kg of sodium hydroxide - all substances used in drug production.

The Loikan facility was “very likely” to have been the source of much of the Sam Gor syndicate’s meth, said the Yangon-based AFP officer. “Some militia were involved in the lab,” said Oi Khun, a communications officer for the 3,000-strong Kaung Kha militia, in an interview. He paused, then added: “But not with the knowledge of senior members” of the militia.

One person in Loikan described how workers from the lab would come down from the hills. The men, like most of the villagers, were ethnic Chinese. But they dressed better than the locals, had foreign accents, and had a foul smell about them. The rank chemicals used to cook the meth had seeped into the skin of the men, who seemed unperturbed that the signature stench might reveal their illicit activities.

Meth lab managers and chemists are mostly Taiwan nationals, say Thai police. So, too, are many of the crime network’s couriers and boat crews who transport the drugs across the Asia-Pacific. Shan’s super-labs produce the purest crystal meth in the world, the senior Chinese counter-narcotics official told Reuters. “They can take it slow and spread (the meth) out on the ground and let it dry.”

The UNODC estimates the Asia-Pacific retail market for meth is worth between $30.3 and $61.4 billion annually. The business model for meth is “very different” to heroin, said the UNODC’s Douglas. “Inputs are relatively cheap, a large workforce is not needed, the price per kilo is higher, and profits are therefore far, far higher.”

The wholesale price of a kilo of crystal meth produced in northeastern Myanmar is as little as $1,800, according to a UNODC report citing the China National Narcotics Control Commission. Average retail prices for crystal meth, according to the UN agency, are equivalent to $70,500 per kilo in Thailand, $298,000 per kilo in Australia and $588,000 in Japan. For the Japanese market, that’s more than a three-hundred-fold mark-up.

The money the syndicate is making “means that if they lose ten tonnes and one goes through, they still make a big profit,” said the Chinese counter-narcotics official. “They can afford failure. It doesn’t matter.”

Money Money ... The analysis of Cai’s phones was continuing to provide leads. On them, police say they found the GPS coordinates of the pick-up point in the Andaman Sea where fishing boats laden with Myanmar meth were meeting drug motherships capable of being at sea for weeks.

One of the motherships was a Taiwanese trawler called the Shun de Man 66, according to the Taiwanese law enforcement document. The vessel was already at sea when, in early July 2017, Joshua Joseph Smith walked into a marine broker in the Western Australian capital of Perth and paid $A350,000 (about $265,000 at the time) for the MV Valkoista, a fishing charter boat. Smith, who was in his mid-40s and hailed from the east coast of Australia, inquired about sea sickness tablets. According to local media, he didn’t have a fishing license at the time.

After buying the boat on July 7, Smith set the Valkoista on a course straight from the marina to meet the Shun De Man 66 in the Indian Ocean, an AFP police commander said. After the rendezvous, the Valkoista then sailed to the remote Western Australian port city of Geraldton on July 11, where its crew was seen “unloading a lot of packages” into a van, the commander said. “We knew we had an importation. We know the methodology of organized crime networks. We know if a ship leaves empty and comes back with some gear on it, that it hasn’t just dropped from the sky in the middle of the ocean.”

Investigators checked CCTV footage and hotel, plane and car hire records. The phones of some of the Australian drug traffickers were tapped. It soon became apparent, police say, that some of Smith’s alleged co-conspirators were members of an ethnic Lebanese underworld gang, as well as the Hells Angels and Comanchero motorcycle gangs, known as “bikies” in Australia.

As they put together their deal to import 1.2 tonnes of crystal meth into Australia, Smith’s associates met with Sam Gor syndicate members in Bangkok in August 2017, according to a copy of an AFP document reviewed by Reuters. The Australians reconvened in Perth a month later.

Bikers may have a reputation for wild clubhouse parties and a self-styled mythology as outsiders, but these Australians had refined tastes. They flew business class, stayed in five-star hotels and dined at the finest restaurants, according to police investigators and local media reports. One of those restaurants, said the AFP commander, was the Rockpool Bar & Grill in Perth. The restaurant offered a 104-page wine list and a menu that included caviar with toast at about $185 per serving.

On November 27, 2017, the Shun De Man 66 set sail again, this time from Singapore. The vessel headed north into the Andaman Sea to rendezvous with a smaller boat bringing the meth from Myanmar. The Shun De Man then sailed along the west coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and dropped down to the Indian Ocean.

The Indonesian navy watched and the AFP listened. When the Shun De Man finally met again with the Valkoista in international waters off the West Australian coast on December 19, an Asian voice could be heard shouting “money, money,” according to the commander and local media reports. The Shun De Man’s crew had one half of a torn Hong Kong dollar bill. Smith and his crew had the other half. The Australian buyers proved their identity by matching their portion to the fragment held by the crew of the Shun De Man, who then handed over the meth.

The Valkoista arrived in the Australian port city of Geraldton following a two-day return journey in rough seas. The men unloaded the drugs in the pre-dawn dark. Masked members of the AFP and Western Australian police moved in with assault weapons and seized the drugs and the men. Smith pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of an illegal drug. Some of his alleged associates are still on trial.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau said it had “worked together with our counterparts on the investigation” of the Shun De Man 66 and that this had led to the “substantial seizure of illicit narcotics” by the Australian authorities in December 2017. The bureau said it was “aware that Taiwanese syndicates have participated in maritime drug trafficking in (the) Asia-Pacific region,” and was working “collaboratively and closely with our counterparts to disrupt these syndicates and cross-border drug trafficking.”

Nimble, Elusive, Unfazed ... As the investigation into the syndicate deepened, police concluded that crime groups from across the region had undergone a kind of mega-merger to form Sam Gor. The members include the three biggest Hong Kong and Macau triads, who spent much of the 1990s in open warfare: 14K, Wo Shing Wo and Sun Yee On. The other two are the Big Circle Gang, Tse’s original triad, and the Bamboo Union, based in Taiwan. In the words of one investigator, the syndicate’s supply chain is so complex and expertly run that it “must rival Apple’s.”

“The syndicate has a lot of money and there is a vast market to tap,” said Jay Li Chien-chih, a Taiwanese police senior colonel who has been stationed in Southeast Asia for a decade. “The power this network possesses is unimaginable.”

Investigators have had wins. In February last year, police busted the Loikan super-lab in Myanmar, where they found enough tea-branded packaging for 10 tonnes of meth. The Shun De Man 66 was intercepted that month by the Indonesian navy with more than one tonne of meth aboard. In March 2018, a key Sam Gor lieutenant was arrested in Cambodia and extradited to Myanmar. In December, the compound of Sue Songkittikul, a suspected syndicate operations chief, was raided in Thailand.

Located near the border with Myanmar, the moat-ringed compound had a small meth lab, which police suspected was used to experiment with new recipes; a powerful radio tower with a 100-km range; and an underground tunnel from the main house to the back of the property. Sue wasn’t there, but property and money from 38 bank accounts linked to him and totaling some $9 million were seized during the investigation. Sue is still at large.

But the flow of drugs leaving the Golden Triangle for the wider Asia-Pacific seems to have increased. Seizures of crystal meth and yaba rose about 50% last year to 126 tonnes in East and Southeast Asia. At the same time, prices for the drugs fell in most countries. This pattern of falling prices and rising seizures, the UNODC said in a report released in March 2019, “suggested the supply of the drug had expanded.”

In the Sam Gor syndicate, police face a nimble and elusive adversary. When authorities had success stopping the drug motherships, police said, Sam Gor switched to hiding its product in shipping containers. When Thailand stopped much of the meth coming directly across the border from Myanmar by truck, the syndicate re-routed deliveries through Laos and Vietnam. This included deploying hordes of Laotians with backpacks, each containing about 30 kilos of meth, to carry it into Thailand on narrow jungle paths.

Over the years, police have had little success in taking down Asia’s drug lords. Some of the suspected syndicate leaders have been involved in drug trafficking for decades, according to the AFP target list. The last time a top-level Asian narcotics kingpin was successfully prosecuted and imprisoned for more than a short period was in the mid-1970s. That’s when Ng Sik-ho, a wily Hong Kong drug trafficker known as Limpy Ho, was sentenced to 30 years in prison for smuggling more than 20 tonnes of opium and morphine, according to court records.

So far, Tse has avoided Limpy Ho’s fate. He is being tracked, and all the signs are he knows it, say counter-narcotics agents. Despite the heat, some police say they believe he is continuing his drug operations, unfazed.

Slideshow (16 Images)
Special Report: The hunt for Asia's El Chapo
The US Marshals Service says a nine-month drug investigation in San Diego ended with 85 people accused of participating in a massive drug ring tied to the Sinaloa Cartel, including one person from Fernley.

They said the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized around 175 pounds of methamphetamine, heroin and fentanyl. US Marshals Service says they found $50,000 in cash, multiple firearms and a 2020 Cadillac Escalade valued at $115,000.

They said Rhiannon Hiller of Fernley was one of the 85 people who were indicted in the case.

The US Marshals Service Fugitive Task force, with the assistance of Lyon County Sheriff's Office, found Hiller on Tuesday working in a warehouse in the USA Parkway area.

They said Hiller was taken into custody on a federal warrant from the United States District Court, Southern District of California.

US Marshals Service says the warrant cited a violation of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. They said Hiller had an extensive criminal history, including robbery, carjacking, felon in possession and possession of controlled substances.

They said Hiller will have to face her charge in San Diego, California.

Multiple agencies were involved in the investigation.

Release Date: October 9, 201
YUMA, Ariz. – U.S. Border Patrol agents assigned to the Interstate 8 Immigration Checkpoint and Dome Valley seized close to $450K in methamphetamine, cocaine, and fentanyl, and apprehended two Mexican nationals in multiple events over the weekend.

In the first event Friday afternoon, agents working at the checkpoint referred a Dodge Charger to the secondary inspection area after a Border Patrol canine alerted to an odor it was trained to detect.

Agents discovered 230 packages of methamphetamine hidden in the vehicle’s trunk. The narcotics have an approximate weight of more than 135 pounds and an estimated value of nearly $312,000. The driver was arrested for transportation of a controlled substance.

Yuma Sector agents discovered 135 pounds of meth inside of the trunk of a smuggling vehicle

Yuma Sector agents discovered 135 pounds of meth inside of the trunk of a smuggling vehicle

In the second event Saturday morning, agents encountered a Jeep Compass attempting to pass through the immigration checkpoint. Agents determined that the driver and front seat passenger were United States citizens.

The backseat passenger and another individual found hiding in the rear of the vehicle were determined to be illegal aliens from Mexico. The 30-year-old driver and 27-year-old passenger were arrested for harboring certain aliens, and the illegal aliens were arrested for being unlawfully present in the United States.

Later that day, agents observed a Cadillac CTS traveling through Dome Valley from Highway 95. Dome Valley is a route commonly used to circumvent the immigration checkpoint and Border Patrol agents and canines. Agents performed a vehicle stop and discovered two packages of cocaine and five packages of fentanyl hidden in the rear passenger and driver-side quarter panels.

The cocaine weighed more than 5 pounds with an estimated value of more than $66,000. The fentanyl has an approximate weight in excess of 13 pounds. The two occupants, both United States citizens, were arrested for transportation of a controlled substance.

And on Friday evening, agents referred a Honda Civic to the secondary inspection area following a Border Patrol canine alert. The occupants included a Mexican citizen with a border crossing card, and two United States citizens, one of whom was from Somerton. After a vehicle search, agents discovered 16 packages of methamphetamine hidden in the dashboard and console area of the vehicle.

The narcotics weighed more than 26 pounds with an estimated value of almost $61,000. The occupants were arrested for transportation of a controlled substance.
More than $1B of cocaine seized in record haul, officials say
PHOTO: A picture released by Uruguay's Navy showing bundles of cocaine seized at Montevideo's port on December 27, 2019. (AFP via Getty Images)

A picture released by Uruguay's Navy showing bundles of cocaine seized at Montevideo's port on December 27, 2019. (AFP via Getty Images)

Uruguay Naval and Customs officers seized more than four tons of cocaine at a seaport in the capital Montevideo, with an estimated street value of nearly $1.3 billion, officials said. The record haul was described as the biggest setback for traffickers in their country's history.

Uruguay Customs Director Jaime Borgiani told reporters at a press conference on Friday that 4.4 tons of pure cocaine had been seized from the port.

Local reports said another 1.5 tons was later found on a ranch, according to BBC, who first reported the news.

Four transport containers with soy flour had been flagged with ‘anomalies’ in scanned images during security checks in the Port of Montevideo, according to BBC. One container was opened and inspected earlier this week, and was found to contain more than 3,000 bricks of cocaine.

If the three other containers are found to have similar content, it could increase the haul to a 15-ton seizure. The second container, which “produced positive results” is now being inspected, according to officials.

He added that the drug-filled containers had been packed in Nueva Palmira -- an area in Uruguay located on the border with Argentina. The cocaine is believed to have been destined for the West African country of Togo, according to officials.

Uruguay is increasingly used by cartels as a key transport point for drugs being sent to Europe and Africa.

Italy court rules home-growing cannabis is legal, reigniting dispute
FILE PHOTO: Droplets of oil form on the surface of a cannabis plant in a state-owned agricultural farm in Rovigo, about 60 km  (40 miles) from Venice, September 22, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
Italy's Supreme Court has ruled that small-scale domestic cultivation of cannabis is legal, in a landmark decision triggering calls for further legalization from weed advocates and anger from the country's conservatives.

UK navy warship captures $4 million of drugs in Gulf of Oman
Britain's Royal Navy said on Monday one of its warships had helped to seize a batch of crystal meth worth more than 3.3 million pounds ($4.3 million) from smugglers in the Gulf of Oman.
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