Malaysian police said they have smashed major drug syndicates masterminded by Nigerians and Iranians, with the arrests of 1,280 suspects over six years.
They said some 30 drug gangs from the two dominant nationalities were broken up between 2010 and last year, with 45 "drug lords" nabbed.
"Most of these syndicates have since fled to their own countries while some remnants have resorted to setting up bases in neighbouring countries," Narcotics Crime Investigation Department (NCID) director Mohd Mokhtar Mohd Shariff told The Star newspaper in an interview. The criminals were caught, he said, through intensive intelligence gathering and cooperation with law-enforcement agencies in the region, including China's National Narcotics Control Commission.
The gangs had imported 385kg of methamphetamines, 368kg of cocaine and 39.5kg of heroin in the last seven years. These were mainly from Brazil, Venezuela, Afghanistan and China.
The 2015 US International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said Nigerian and Iranian drug trafficking groups use Malaysia as a trafficking hub to supply both domestic and regional markets. Nigerians are known to use commercial courier services such as air cargo and container ships to transport methamphetamines and heroin into and out of Malaysia. Some of the imported heroin was found in high-heeled shoes while methamphetamine was transported in hair and body spray canisters.
AMOUNT OF DRUGS IMPORTED BY SYNDICATES
385kg of methamphetamines
368kg of cocaine
39.5kg of heroin
In their heyday, the drug traffickers splurged on luxury apartments and expensive cars. "They were not afraid to flaunt their wealth," Mr Mokhtar said. The NCID did not respond yesterday to queries to confirm details of the interview.
News of the police success was given the thumbs-up in Malaysia, a country that hosts hundreds of thousands of foreigners who enter using students visas that were sometimes abused. Of the 798 Nigerians arrested, 426 had entered the country as private university students.
Police also nabbed 482 Iranians in breaking up the drug gangs, but did not give a breakdown on how many came in using student visas.
The student-visa loophole has to be addressed by the government by carefully examining the entry requirements and visa processing, said Professor Tam Cai Lian, senior psychology lecturer at Monash University Malaysia.
"Most of the established universities have made attendance of foreign students compulsory for at least 75 per cent of a semester. Rules and regulations for the release of visa should be more rigid, reliable and vetted by authorised parties before students are on board," he said.
Prof Tam believed the eradication of these syndicates would reduce the number of drug users in Malaysia, warning that hard work still had to be put in to prevent the syndicates from resurfacing.
Statistics from the National Anti-Drugs Agency showed an increase from 10,301 new drug users recorded in 2012 to 13,481 in 2013 and 13,605 in 2014. These numbers, however, were markedly lower compared with the 17,238 new drug users recorded in 2010.
Mr Mokhtar has mooted the idea of a special court for prosecuting drug cases to expedite police work. Citing the success of the night court set up in Johor Baru in 2010 to handle wayside robbery cases, he said a similar model could allow for swifter proceedings in narcotics cases.