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Iranians make a hit in Malaysia

Contributed by Anonymous on Wednesday, February 16 @ 07:31:23 CST

Asia Times Online, By Matthew C DuPee

Late last month, Malaysian counter-narcotics police dismantled a 15-person drug smuggling gang in the Klang Valley and seized a drug processing laboratory and 78.7 kilograms of syabu, a local term for crystal methamphetamine.

Malaysian state news reported that all 15 drug traffickers were Iranian nationals, including two women, raising the overall number of Iranian drug traffickers arrested in Malaysia last month alone to 32. Malaysian authorities believe all 32 Iranian traffickers

comprised the same criminal syndicate who focused their operations in the Klang Valley, particularly from a series of condominiums in the Ampang community.

Malaysian authorities arrested more Iranian smugglers last month than all of 2010, according to Malaysian statistics. Similar trends occurred elsewhere in Southeast Asia last year. For instance, Thailand's Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) confirmed arresting 75 Iranian nationals for trafficking a total of 164 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine into Thailand throughout 2010. NSB officials indicate Iranian nationals pose the most severe trafficking risk out of all international travelers entering through Thailand's main international airport (Suvarnabhumi).

Iranian authorities have praised Malaysia's anti-drug efforts while continuing to ramp up their own tough anti-drug policies. On January 4, Iranian officials passed new anti-narcotics legislation that for the first time imposes stiff penalties for possessing or trafficking synthetic drugs, such as syabu, and other variants of amphetamines.

Under article 39B of the Dangerous Drug Act, drug traffickers caught with synthetic narcotics weighing more than 50 grams can face a mandatory death sentence if convicted. Iran's previous law, drafted in 1989, required the death penalty for both traffickers and addicts caught with either 5 kilograms of opium or 30 grams of heroin without mentioning synthetic drugs. Although harsh penalties against addicts have since diminished since then, drug trafficking is punishable by death in both Malaysia and Iran.

On January 26, Iran's ambassador to Malaysia, Dr Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi, announced Iran's pledge to help Malaysia combat its addiction to syabu and urged Iranian nationals visiting Malaysia not to engage in criminal and drug-related activities. Malaysian authorities recently arrested two Iranian men smuggling drugs into the country by consuming 174 plastic capsules containing syabu weighing 1.5 kilograms. Dr Mehdi Zahedi pledged further cooperation between Iran and Malaysia to combat the burgeoning drug trade in Malaysia, part of which is facilitated by the Iranian drug mafia.

Over the past two years, Iranian drug mafias have introduced amphetamine-type-stimulants (ATS) into the Southwest Asian drug market, initially providing highly purified grades of crystal methamphetamine, known locally as shisheh (A Farsi word meaning "glass"), to affluent youths and elitist circles.

However, its high cost and unfamiliarity among drug users left traffickers with a limited market, so when production of ATS increased drastically among a litany of clandestine ATS-producing "kitchens" across the region, Iran's market price for high grade shisheh diminished. According to Iranian counter-narcotics authorities, the price of shisheh continues to plummet, and with it, addiction rates are soaring across a wide spectrum of vulnerable segments of society.

As over-production fulfills the domestic demand for crystal meth, traffickers are beginning to smuggle large loads of Iranian produced ATS to illicit markets as far east as Japan, Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia. Malaysia and other Southeast Asian states are vulnerable to the scourge of synthetic drugs, and the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates the threat posed by amphetamine-type stimulants in the region is now far greater than heroin.

The Malaysian methamphetamine market is extremely lucrative for Iranian organized crime groups, who manufacture and sell a kilogram of crystal meth inside Iran for around US$4,500 but can sell the same kilogram in Malaysia for an astounding US$80,000. Unlike narcotics derived from plants, synthetic drugs can be manufactured anywhere that has access to rudimentary equipment and a series of commonly found precursor chemicals.

Dr Mohammad Mehdi Zahedi praised the new legislation and warned drug traffickers that the new laws will severely impact the movement of international drug syndicates and eventually "eradicate them". While European officials and the UNODC consistently support Iran's effort to combat the threat of drug trafficking across its borders and for cracking down on domestic production of synthetic drugs, critics slam Iran for irregularities in drug convictions and executions saying many political prisoners are falsely accused of drug trafficking and quickly executed.

On January 29, Iran executed a female Iranian-Dutch citizen named Zahara Bahrami, amid international protests from her family and Dutch authorities. The Netherlands has suspended diplomatic ties with Iran following Bahrami's execution. So far this year, Iran has executed 66 convicted criminals, most of them for drug traffickers, although the independent Human Rights Watch group counts 74 prisoners who were executed since January 1.

Iran executed 388 prisoners in 2009 according to Iranian state do*****ents and at least 179 in 2010, according to independent media counts. Not all state executions are attributed to drug trafficking as murder, rape, adultery, armed robbery and the generic offense - moharebeh - or "enmity against God" - are all crimes punishable by death.

Bahrami, who was arrested following anti-government protests in Tehran in December 2009, was originally charged with moharebeh before being charged with trafficking 450 grams of cocaine from the Netherlands to Iran, a charge her family and friends vehemently deny. Malaysia executed at least 68 criminals in 2009, according to an Amnesty International project that tallies global capital punishment statistics.

As in the past, harsh penalties for drug traffickers in Iran will likely have mixed results. Higher risks correlates to higher profits for illicit smugglers, hence Iran remains a major destination for cross border drug trafficking from Afghanistan. Additionally, Iran's prison system is increasingly under strain due to a dramatic increase in criminal incarcerations.

According to Mohammad Ali Zanjirei, deputy head of Iran's Prisons' Organization, Iran is holding 35% more prisoners in its jails now compared to 2009. Over 204,000 people are currently jailed in Iran, or 271 out of every 100,000 people in the Islamic Republic. The inmate surge coincides with the state crackdown against political protestors in December 2009, although officials cite successful anti-narcotics operations for the ballooning prison population. New anti-amphetamine legalization as found in Article 39B will likely contribute to even more prisoners in 2011 especially as the Iranian amphetamine market continues to explode and expand beyond its borders.

Matthew C DuPee is a senior research associate and specialist at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA.



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