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Saudi Arabia busts drug smuggling operation from Assad’s Syria

April 30, 2020 at 3:31 pm

Saudi Arabian forces go through drugs found in a shipment from the Syrian government, 29 April 2020 [Asaad Hanna/Twitter]

Saudi Arabia’s anti-drug unit has captured a shipment of around 44.7 million narcotics pills hidden within herbal beverage packages, which were being smuggled into the kingdom from the Assad regime-controlled areas of Syria.

According to Saudi media outlets, a spokesman for the kingdom’s General Directorate of Narcotics Control announced yesterday that the plan to smuggle the huge stash of narcotic amphetamine pills into the country was thwarted after successfully passing through a number of neighbouring countries. Four people involved in the smuggling operation were arrested.

The seizure of the narcotics at the eastern Al-Batha Port and the western King Abdullah Port yesterday was part of a joint operation conducted by the Directorate and Saudi Customs

Clues of the origin of the drugs, however, became known when the packaging was identified as belonging to the Syria-based company Kabour International Group, which prepares, packages and delivers the herbal leaves known as yerba mate worldwide.

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The smuggling operation bears much similarity to a shipment which was intercepted last week by Egyptian authorities who seized containers heading towards Libya. The shipping containers were found to be filled with narcotic pills that were packaged in boxes of milk products made by the company named “Milkman”, which is in turn owned by the infamous and influential Syrian businessman and the cousin of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Rami Makhlouf.

Makhlouf has been a controversial figure throughout the ongoing nine-year Syrian civil war, and even prior to that, having been accused on multiple occasions of being complicit in the financial corruption long practiced by the Syrian regime and has held a monopoly over the country’s economy for decades.

The United States imposed sanctions on Makhlouf in 2008 – years before the civil war – and also in 2017, Switzerland froze his assets. More recently, Al-Assad froze his assets and has kept him under house arrest as a punishment for not handing over billions of dollars to repay the country’s debts to Russia.

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These drug trafficking operations have been seen to shed light on the tactics the regime has used to fund its military campaigns throughout the civil war, particularly in the face of foreign sanctions. Other such incidents have occurred over the years, such as in 2018 when Greece seized the largest single haul of amphetamine pills that were also found to be shipped from Syria.

Al-Assad’s allies in the region have also been caught being involved in the smuggling of narcotics, with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) causing a crack epidemic among Arab Ahwazis in 2017 in order to destroy resistance efforts, and with the Lebanese Shia militias Hezbollah having been accused of drug trafficking over the years.