RANGOON — Burmese authorities off the coast of Tenasserim Division say they have seized nearly 2.4 million Ecstasy pills valued at more than US$17 million, the largest drug bust in Burma’s history.
Border guard police officers intercepted the Ecstasy-laden boat at around 4 pm on Aug. 19, according to Police Brig-Gen Kyaw Win, as the ship was headed to Malaysia from Kawthaung, the southernmost port town in Burma. Police said they believed Burma was being used as a transit point for the drugs, which were destined for Malaysia and eventually the United States.
“The name of the drug is Ecstasy. It amounted to 2.385 million tablets,” Kyaw Win told The Irrawaddy. “There are two kinds of logos on the Ecstasy. One is Nike, and the other is RM.”
Police seized 297 bags of the “Nike” branded pills and 180 bags of the “RM” variety, with each bag containing 5,000 Ecstasy tablets, according to Kyaw Win, who serves on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control.
All 15 men who were onboard the boat have been detained.
Police calculated the total value of the seizure at nearly 16.7 billion kyats, equivalent to about $17.2 million. However, Kyaw Win also said the value per pill was 70,000 kyats, which, if accurate, would put the total drug haul at 167 billion kyats.
Pressed by The Irrawaddy to clarify the discrepancy, Kyaw Win insisted that the numbers provided by police were correct.
Kyaw Win claimed the Ecstasy was not produced in Burma, though he did not indicate where authorities suspected the pills originated from, and said the investigation was ongoing.
“We are still investigating them [the 15 men] in Kawthaung,” he said. “We are checking who allowed them to travel on this boat, and who else belongs to this illegal drug syndicate.
“They were heading to Malaysia. They were to land at a Penang Island harbor, according to a tip we received,” he said, adding that 90 tons of illegal timber was also found on the boat.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) last week hailed the signing of a “landmark” agreement to cooperate with Burma’s government to “strengthen the rule law and address significant crime and drug issues,” while also warning that the illicit narcotics trade in Burma posed a domestic and transnational threat. Burma is Southeast Asia’s largest producer of synthetic drugs, according to the UNODC.