Southeast Asia’s drug gangs are making over $60 billion a year pumping out record amounts of methamphetamine, then laundering the profits through the region’s mushrooming number of casinos, a UN study showed on Thursday.
Crime groups are also piggybacking on improved infrastructure to hustle Made-In-Myanmar meth to neighbouring drug markets, and as far as Australia and Japan, the report said.
The study, by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), warned this was sending street prices tumbling and spurring an addiction crisis.
“A safe, conservative estimate of over $60 billion a year” is being hoovered up by the meth lords of Southeast Asia alone, Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC’s regional representative, told reporters in Bangkok at the report’s launch.
Seizures of methamphetamine – both the caffeine-cut ‘yaba’ tablets and the much more addictive and potent crystal meth or ‘ice’ version – had tripled over the last five years, according to the report.
Last year 120 tonnes (120,000kg) of meth was seized in East and Southeast Asia, up from around 40 tonnes in 2013, the report said.
The figures were based on drug seizure figures and regional police intelligence.
Much of the meth is originating from the labs of remote and lawless Northern Shan State in Myanmar, which has rebooted the ‘Golden Triangle’ drug trade from its staple of heroin.
“This region is the epicentre of the global synthetic drug trade,” Douglas said.
Around $10 billion annually continues to be made from Golden Triangle heroin, with China the world’s largest market, according to the report.
But meth is the new cash cow.
The study shows increasingly sophisticated and diverse drug gangs are shuttling it across Asia – cooked by Taiwanese chemists, orchestrated by shadowy financiers from Thailand, Macau and China, and run by Myanmar producers who brand their ‘ice’ in tea-packages.
Outlaw motorcycle gangs from Australia and New Zealand are getting in on the act moving massive shipments from Southeast Asia to their domestic markets, where the price surges, the Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact study added.
The illicit billions are being cleaned in the increasing number of casinos springing up across the Mekong area – from Myanmar, Laos to Cambodia, according to the study.
“The producers and traffickers that dominate launder through cash-based businesses like casinos, hotels, as well as real estate,” Douglas added.
The report also said tens of billions of dollars were being spun from counterfeit medicines, clothes and cigarettes, as well as the illegal wildlife and timber trade and human trafficking.
Thailand sits at the heart of Mekong area, with hard to police land and sea borders making it a sluice for drugs, wildlife and counterfeit goods.