Record drug seizures as Indonesia steps up fight

Police confiscated 3.7 tonnes of controlled substances last year

Indonesian narcotics police seized 3.7 tonnes of controlled substances last year - nearly a tonne more than in 2015 - as ramped-up raids led to hundreds of shipment intercepts in the country's war on drugs.

About 1,230 suspects, including 21 foreigners, were nabbed in more than 800 operations by the National Narcotics Agency (BNN).

The total drug seizure and arrests were significantly higher than the 2.9 tonnes confiscated from 580 raids and the 840 people, including six foreigners, arrested in 2015.

However, the record haul last year still pales in comparison with what is estimated to have hit the streets, Indonesia's anti-drugs czar Budi Waseso told reporters last week.

The police general said the seizures thus far represented only about 1 per cent of what had been trafficked into the vast archipelago from China, India, Iran and Malaysia. Although the figures for this year have not been tabulated, the BNN expects drug seizures to hit a new high again.

Citing intelligence from his counterparts in Beijing, General Budi said China was a big source of the drugs being smuggled into Indonesia. He said some 250 tonnes of illicit substances such as ecstasy, heroin and methamphetamine - better known as crystal meth or "ice" - were being brought into the country by traffickers from China alone each year. Malaysia was another huge source of illicit drugs.

The rising drug problem in Indonesia led to President Joko Widodo issuing a shoot-on-sight order recently aimed at drug dealers and traffickers in Indonesia.

The total drug seizure and arrests were significantly higher than the 2.9 tonnes confiscated from 580 raids and the 840 people, including six foreigners, arrested in 2015.

Said Gen Budi: "I've told my men not to hesitate to shoot to kill if they have to (because) if drug offenders go to jail they get free meals, which are paid for by the state."

Last week, the BNN chief also voiced his frustration at how the endemic corruption in the country's prison system has been a drag on his anti-drug efforts.

BNN spokesman, Colonel Sulistiandriatmoko, said the agency had busted drug syndicates operating from behind bars - coordinating the importation and distribution of illicit drugs in and outside of prisons.

"This wouldn't have been possible if it weren't for the assistance of rogue prison officers," he told The Sunday Times.

In July, a prison guard at Porong Penitentiary, in East Java, was arrested with 20g of crystal meth, which he was to deliver to inmates.

A month later, the prison warden and his chief security officer at Batu jail, in the Nusakambangan maximum-security prison complex in Bali, were sacked after police busted a drug ring responsible for bringing in 1.2 million ecstasy pills from the Netherlands.

The deal was coordinated by an inmate in jail and the drugs were meant for distribution outside of prison.

Gen Budi called such prison officials traitors who should receive heavier punishments than drug dealers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 15, 2017, with the headline 'Record drug seizures as Indonesia steps up fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe