Police in Laos confiscated more than a ton of methamphetamine recently in what international law enforcement authorities are characterizing as one of Asia’s largest drug busts ever. More than 1.5 tons of crystal meth and 55 million amphetamine tablets were discovered on October 27 in a truck traveling in the northern Bokeo province of Laos, which borders Thailand and Myanmar in a region of Southeast Asia commonly referred to as the Golden Triangle.
Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia regional representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that the find was “by far the largest seizure in the history of East and Southeast Asia,” according to the BBC.
“It is three times the meth tablets that Laos seized all last year, and close to a third of the crystal meth,” Douglas told the AFP news agency.
Police discovered the record drug haul after receiving a report of a suspicious truck from a resident of Bokeo’s Hoeyxay district. After stopping the vehicle, they found 10 million amphetamine tablets hidden in crates from the Lao Brewery Company. In a statement, the beer company said that it had “no involvement in this case whatsoever”.
“We are deeply disappointed that our crates have been abused as a cover for illegal activities and will not hesitate to take immediate legal action towards anyone misusing our company assets,” the company added.
Law enforcement officers arrested the 22-year-old driver of the truck and took him into custody. After two hours of questioning, the man reportedly told authorities that the drugs belonged to a 40-year-old resident of Hoeyxay. Police then searched the man’s home, where they found more amphetamine tablets and 65 plastic bags of crystal methamphetamine, or “ice.” Lao National Radio reported that the seized drugs weighed a total of 1,537 kilograms (3,380 pounds), according to media reports.
The record seizure was the third major drug bust in the Bokeo province in the span of a week. On October 20, a truck heading to the Lao capital city Vientiane was stopped and found to be carrying 10 million amphetamine pills. Two days later, police seized six million more meth pills in the Tompheung district of Bokeo, although they were unable to make any arrests in the case.
“The suspects might have fled across the Mekong River to the Myanmar side. They are residents of a small island on the Mekong River on the Lao side,” an unidentified police officer told Radio Free Asia.
Law enforcement officials said that they did not know if the three recent massive drug seizures in Bokeo are related.
“They might be members of the same drug smuggling network,” the police officer opined.
Officials do know, however, that the Golden Triangle has long been a major drug-producing region with international reach. The area is a major production center for illicit methamphetamine and other stimulants, which are distributed by Asian crime syndicates to countries as far away as Japan and New Zealand.
Douglas said that Laos has seen a spike in illegal drug activity because a military coup in neighboring Myanmar in February has led to unrest in the border region. The strife, particularly in the Myanmar state of Shan, has resulted in a shift in drug smuggling routes in the area.
“This is related to the security and governance breakdown in the Triangle and Shan Myanmar—spillover is hitting the region,” Douglas said.
Conditions in other countries in the region have also contributed to the increase in drug traffic in Laos. COVID-19 restrictions and security measures on China’s Yunnan border with Myanmar “appear to be at least partly why trafficking has increased east into Laos and south into Thailand” to avoid losses amid the unrest, Douglas added.
“Neighbors and the wider region are getting absolutely flooded with methamphetamine, and there is little doubt it is connected to the governance situation in Shan,” he said.