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Who runs the khat smuggling ring in Bangladesh?

  • Published at 06:17 pm September 24th, 2018
The Department of Narcotics Control and Dhaka Customs confiscated 468 kg of New Psychotropic Substance (NPS)- known locally as 'khat,' estimated to be worth around Tk70 lakh, on August 31, 2018 Courtesy

Bangladesh’s largest-ever consignment of khat was seized at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on September 10

Lately, law enforcers have carried-out six seizures of khat, a New Psychotropic Substance (NPS) drug, in different areas of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s largest-ever consignment of khat was seized at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka on September 10. The Criminal Investigation Department (CID) seized 1,600kg of khat, worth Tk2.38 crore.

Law enforcement agencies now suspect that some gangs – involving Bangladeshis and citizens of African countries – are running a khat smuggling racket that has become a fresh concern in the country which is already impacted by yaba.

Khat, however, is a B grade contraband drug item.

Officials of  the CID and Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) said they obtained the names of several smugglers after arresting four people, who are allegedly involved with smuggling khat into Bangladesh from African countries.

DNC's Additional Director (Operation and Intelligence) Nazrul Islam Shikdar told the Dhaka Tribune: “We found a link between our native smugglers and the ones in African countries. 

“We are trying to dig further into the matter.”

Responding to a query, the DNC high official said: “We have not yet found any connection between the Africans living in Bangladesh and such smuggling. But, it is not impossible for them to be involved with the crime."

"We had earlier found that some of them allied themselves with local criminals and carried out different crimes in the country even though they were staying here for their studies, work, or were visiting Bangladesh to play games," he added.

CID's Additional Superintendent of Police (Serious Crime) Rajib Farhan said: "We have heard about the possibilities of African citizens being involved with the smuggling but we are not sure about it.”

"We are trying to understand the smuggling trend and have also identified some names of the people behind the crime," said Rajib, whose team seized Bangladesh’s largest consignment of khat on September 10.

Also Read- New ‘legal high’ creeping into Bangladesh

Meanwhile, CID's Deputy Inspector General (Serious Crime) Md Shah Alam said: “Give us a couple of days; we are trying to root out drug smuggling trends at an early stage.”

22 identified 

The 1,600kg khat consignment, which was sent from Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa by one Ziad Mohammad Yusuf, was packed into 96 cartons, labelled as green tea, and carried to 20 addresses across Bangladesh.

The consignment was for: Mohammad Babu, Moti Meah, Ekramul Haque, Ujjal Mia, Alamgir Hossain, Saiful Islam, Mohammad Munna, Rashed Hossain, Abdul Latif, Obaidur Rahman, Shah Alam, Mohammad Badal, Joy, Atik Ullah, Amin, Ruhul Amin, Mushfiq, Mizanur and SM Saiful Islam.

CID sources said apart from these people, an organization called Sunny Angel Palance, in the Gulshan area, was also listed as an intended consignment recipient.

On September 16, CID's Additional Superintendent of Police Rajib said they have detained Mohammad Munna from Motijheel, and Rashed Hossain from Uttarkhan, in connection to the smuggling. 

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another CID official said police have already tracked down Esha Enterprise’s owner, Mohammad Babu, who was supposed to receive 42 cartons of khat.

Earlier, the DNC arrested Mohammad Nazim and the owner of Shyanon Corporation in connection with khat smuggling. However, they did not disclose the name of the Shyanon Corporation’s owner.

"Both the arrestees confessed that they kept contact with the Ethiopian smugglers over social media and mobile phone," DNC's Add Director Nazrul said.

He added that Nazim had already brought khat into Bangladesh four or five times—while the other arrestee had also brought the drug into the country a couple of times.

Also Read- 1,600kg NPS seized at Dhaka airport

Nazim, who previously lived in Dubai, was supposed to receive 3,500kg of khat, which was scheduled to be sent to Bangladesh in 10 different consignments, by Ziad, from Ethiopia. 

Nazim bagged $1,500 to $2,000 by re-exporting each consignment to Europe, said the DNC.

DNC's Assistant Director (Dhaka Metro) Khorshed Alam said: "It seems that the khat syndicate is quite big. We are trying to track them down."

How Nazim entered the world of khat smuggling

During the initial interrogation, Nazim confessed that he met Ziad while living in Dubai and made a deal to smuggle and re-export khat.

Nazim, from Munshiganj, owned a shop in Dubai which was frequently visited by Ziad. Once they developed trust in each other, Ziad suggested he smuggle khat.

Based on the available information, law enforcement suspects that Nazim is Bangladesh’s main khat smuggler—as a large part of the seized khat consignment was addressed to him. 

He imported the contraband drug, guised as green tea, and re-exported it to Europe and other countries.

Nazim was arrested from his Kakrail office soon after the seizure of 468kg of khat at Dhaka’s airport, on August 31.

Nazim carried out his khat business from Nowshin Enterprise—which is located at Shantinagar Plaza. The neighbouring shopkeepers and traders said Nazim sold his green tea in Dollars and not in Taka.

"He sold 1kg green tea for Tk14,000 to Tk15,000," said one Shahin Alam, a trader of Shantinagar Plaza.

DNC officials said the senders referred to Nazim's organization as “Nowahin Enterprise” to dodge law enforcement.

Nazim made several transactions of about $17,000 from his two bank accounts. Law enforcement suspects that he earned the money through smuggling.

DNC officials assume that Nazim owns some flats and buildings in Dhaka; they are trying to locate them now.

Illegal khat enters Bangladesh legally 

Smugglers have been using the postal service to peddle khat.

The smugglers even collected the official permission of the Directorate of Agricultural Extension to import the contraband item—calling it green-tea.

The seized consignments had the permission of the Directorate of Agricultural Extension, said law enforcement.

Wishing to remain unnamed, an official of the Directorate of Agricultural Extension said that everyone must submit a sample of the plant for import.

Also Read- 208kg ‘khat’ seized in Chittagong

"I think the smugglers...forged documents to import the contraband item," he said.

DNC and CID said the smugglers cleverly use the postal service to carry the drugs and dodge law enforcers. They give fake identities in order to avoid arrest in case the goods are seized.

Law enforcement has seized more than 3,500kg of khat in the last 16 days—mostly from Dhaka airport's cargo unit. The drug was sent to Bangladesh by air.

The DNC, thinks that Bangladesh is used as a transit point for khat but the CID suspects that yaba smugglers might be behind the introduction of a new drug in the country.

Khat and NPSs, a global headache

Khat, one of 803 varieties of NPS, is a flowering evergreen shrub native to East Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The plant, Catha Edulis, contains two alkaloids – cathinone and cathine – that act as stimulants, reports the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Users simply chew khat leaves, keeping a ball of partially-chewed leaves in the inner cheek. The dried leaves can also be used in the same way, though are less potent. 

Some khat users smoke the drug, turn it into tea, or sprinkle it on food.

Khat has been used in Somalia, Yemen, and Ethiopia for centuries—and it can be found in cafes there. 

The effects of khat are similar to those of other amphetamines. Khat users report feelings of: well-being, mental alertness, excitement, and euphoria.

UNODC says long-term use, or abuse, of khat has been linked to: insomnia, anorexia, gastric disorders, depression, liver damage, and heart attacks. Manic and delusional behaviour, violence, suicidal depression, hallucinations, paranoia and khat-induced psychosis have also been reported.

NPS have become a global phenomenon with a presence in over 110 countries. 

Till December 2017, about 803 substances, including Khat, were reported to the UNODC Early Warning Advisory (EWA) on NPS by Governments, laboratories, and partner organizations.

NPS’ available on the market have similar effects as substances under international control such as: cannabis, cocaine, heroin, LSD, MDMA (ecstasy) or amphetamine.

Looking at the effects of NPS that have been reported till December 2017, the majority are stimulants, followed by synthetic cannabinoid receptor agonists, and classic hallucinogens.