Seizure of a large amount of cocaine, the world's costliest drug, recently hit newspaper headlines, raising the question whether the drug has created a market for itself in Bangladesh.
Law enforcement officials however, say there is little or no consumption of cocaine in the country. However, it is believed that Bangladesh is being used as a transit route for large amounts of the drug.
Top officials involved in the recent recovery confirmed to the Dhaka Tribune that several international drug cartels use Bangladesh as a safe route for the smuggling of cocaine to Europe and Southeast Asia.
Lack of modern detection facilities is one of the core reasons why the syndicates are choosing Bangladesh for safe passage, said officials of Department of Narcotics Control (DNC), (CIID), and police.
Cocaine is not familiar to drug users in Bangladesh as are yaba, phensidyl, heroin, marijuana or other illegal drugs, but international cartels use the country's ports as a “safe route” for smuggling it into Europe and Southeast Asia.
Concerned senior law enforcement officials say detection machinery at different ports are too old-fashioned to detect this drug.
International smugglers have been taking advantage of the poor infrastructure for a long time, however, authorities have been unable to arrest or trace their local collaborators.
The few carriers who were caught did not know the smugglers' identities. To protect their identities, smugglers instruct carriers to identify receivers from what they are wearing or sometimes a phone number, which cannot help law enforcement find the clues needed to trace the ring leaders, officials said, based on their previous case experiences.
The cellphone numbers are roaming foreign numbers, which are very difficult to trace, they added.
From 2010, DNC has sized 9.528kg cocaine in Bangladesh. Of this, 3kg cocaine was recovered in 2013, 5.778 kg in 2015 and 0.75 kg in 2017, according to DNC data.
In 2015, customs intelligence seized 107 blue plastic barrels of sunflower oil from a container in Chittagong port – country's busiest port - on June 27 in 2015.
Although officials believe that the two containers had at least 60 to 100kg cocaine mixed into the oil, they cannot confirm the actual amount of the drug.
Port officials said those containers, imported from Bolivia, were shipped from Uruguay’s capital Montevideo and arrived in Chittagong on May 12, 2015 via Singapore.
During a press meet at that time, CIID Director General Moinul Khan said Bangladesh was not the destination of the container, rather the smugglers had plans to use Bangladesh as a transit for the consignment.
The CIID got documentary evidence suggesting a ring had tried to use Bangladesh as transit, he said.
“The firm which was named as importers on the paperwork did not claim the containers for 25 days after they reached Chittagong port. Rather a third party tried to re-export the container to another country,” he said.
In the same year, two other big cocaine consignments were seized by DNC- 2.3 kg of cocaine on September 1 and 3kg on December 8 from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport. Two foreign nationals - Jaime Bardales Gomez (Peruvian) and Chias Espejo Julian (Spanish) - were arrested.
Officials said Julian had travelled to Dhaka from Brazil's Sao Paulo via Dubai, before being arrested by officials acting on a tip-off from the United States about a suspected trafficker.
In the latest development, the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) seized 750 grams of cocaine from Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport on Saturday.
DNC Director (operation and intelligence) Syed Towfique Uddin Ahmed said: “The cocaine worth Tk12 crore was discovered in a parcel that arrived on a Qatar Airways flight through Fedex courier service.
Also Read- Cocaine worth Tk12 crore seized at Dhaka Airport
“The parcel, sent by Nanyonga Grace Buziga of Kampala, Uganda, was addressed to Mokman Hosen, a resident of Uttara in Dhaka, who managed to escape law enforcers when they went to his house,” he added.
DNC Director DIG Syed Towfique Uddin Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune that the drug detection equipment at the ports were not capable of detecting this drug.
“We sent a letter to the concerned authorities to replace the machinery,” he said.
“International smugglers are trying to use this as an opportunity, but they have not succeeded because of our surveillance,” he added.
Major International Drug Trafficking Routes according to DNC:
*Golden Triangle > Bangkok-Singapore-Hong Kong>Japan-> Pacific route (air and sea) > USA-Canada-Australia
*Golden Triangle > Bay of Bengal-Bangladesh-India-Pakistan > Middle East > South and South-Eastern Europe > Western Europe> USA>Canada. (Air, sea and land)
*Golden Triangle > Bay of Bengal>India>Sri Lanka > Middle East-Africa > USA>Canada (air and sea)
*Golden Crescent > Pakistan>India>Middle East>Mediterranean region > Europe>USA>Canada. (Air, sea and land)
*Golden Crescent > Pakistan>Middle East>Africa>Europe-USA-Canada
*India > Bangladesh > Middle East > Indian Ocean> Europe-USA-Canada
*South America > USA>Canada>Europe (air-sea-land)
*Central America > USA>Canada>Europe (air-sea-land)