Challenges for state as a drug transit point

Miri police chief ACP Hakemal Hawari along with his men showing packets of drugs consisting of Ecstasy pills, Erimin 5 pills, syabu and ketamine worth RM248,500, which were seized on Jan 21 this year.

ILLICIT drugs are a scourge to society and no one knows this better than the men and women who keep their ears close to the ground in the effort to contain the menace.

Painstaking work is done to gather intelligence on supply and demand followed through by nerve-wracking operations to bring both drugs and culprits to book.

Sarawak NCID chief ACP Jasmirol Jamaluddin. Photos by Mohd Alif Noni.

Just ask Sarawak Narcotic Criminal Investigation Department (NCID) chief ACP Jasmirol Jamaluddin and he will tell you about the tireless efforts made each day to stamp out the problem.

In an exclusive interview with the New Sarawak Tribune recently he spoke of the challenges facing his men in tackling this threat that has been surfacing from the air, sea and courier services.

The objective, besides eradicating supply in the local market, is also to mitigate the notoriety Sarawak has gained as a transit point for drugs.

Jasmirol emphasised that narcotic police are focused on blocking the entry of drugs and arresting tokans (dealers) bringing in the supplies, which compared to last year, has shown an increase.

But the effort has been made all the more complicated with the Covid-19 pandemic still raging.

The best way is to cut off supply and arrest drug addicts but given the present circumstances a crowded lock-up may be counter productive as it could be a breeding ground for the virus to spread.

“Also, when the dealers are arrested and drug supplies seized, the users will look for alternative options such as ketum (kratom) leaves and other low-profile drugs.

“Metaphorically speaking, when we cut off the snake’s head, the body is done. But, we will need to be smart because the users will look for more money to buy high-in-demand drugs when supplies fall,” he said, pointing to the occurrence of burglaries, thefts and other crimes to fuel their habit.

By and large he said drugs only transit in Sarawak with the bulk of supplies being brought directly to the Sarawak-Indonesia border to be delivered to the neighbouring country’s market.

“Based on information obtained, the supplies will be brought through the border gates using the express bus service as well as private vehicles.

According to Jasmirol much of the drugs in the state, are imported from the peninsula.

Sarawak Police Commissioner Datuk Aidi Ismail (centre) having a closer look at the seized drug equipment used to repack the drugs while, Sarawak NCID deputy chief Supt Wong Leong Meng (left) and Investigating Officer Inspector Mohd Fitri Kukung look on. Photo by Ramidi Subari.

Once the processed supplies arrive, the drugs are repacked into smaller packages.

A 1kg package (of syabu), will be measured and repacked into 0.5g, 5g or 10g, for local consumption. After that, they will send the other repacked drugs to Kalimantan, Indonesia.

“Why do they send to Indonesia? It is because the value of drugs there is high.

“For example, the price of syabu in the peninsula is now worth RM35,000 to RM40,000 on average. When the drugs arrive in Kalimantan, the price doubles and is worth around RM90,000 to RM100,000,” says Jasmirol.

In Sarawak, there are a total of 13 Immigration, Customs, Quarantine and Security Complex (ICQS) and all of it are now closed due to Covid-19.

Because of that, the drug mules have had to use illegal routes (jalan tikus and jalan gajah) to deliver the drugs to the neighbouring country.

He noted that at the same time, the Malaysian government has implemented the ‘Op Benteng’ operation to control the border and block anyone or items from leaving or entering the state.

However, the whole of Sarawak is bigger than other states in the peninsula and its sprawling border makes it all but near impossible for authorities to block entries round the clock.

“But so far, there is no case of drugs from Indonesia being delivered to Sarawak.

“If the drugs come from Lawas and Limbang, it would have originated from the Philippines. It will enter Sabah and later get through the northern part of the state. That is the way they work,” he said.

As to whether there any drug processing labs in the state, he emphasised that his department has yet to receive any information involving drug processing premises in Sarawak.

“Most of the arrests and raids made by my department, involved premises or residences that were used to repack the drugs received from the peninsula.

“These drugs are already processed there (in the peninsula) and it is only brought to Sarawak to be repacked before being marketed,” he said.

Sarawak Deputy Police Commissioner DCP Mancha Ata (centre) along with Jasmirol showing one of the marijuana packages worth over RM25,000, which were seized on July 9 this year.

Today, the number one drug in Sarawak is syabu (methamphetamine) followed by marijuana.

Aside from that, Jasmirol noted that the state is also notorious for juice, which is a mixture of Ecstasy, Erimin 5 and ketamine and commonly consumed in entertainment centres.

However, given that these centres are no longer open during this pandemic, attention has to turned to private parties at luxury residences.

Other drugs like ketamine, Ecstasy, Erimin 5 and Nospan pills have not had much traction in Sarawak, which is why there is fewer supplies.

About 13.7kg of ‘juice’, 354.13g of ketamine, 320 Erimin 5 pills and 50 Ecstasy pills, were seized by Sarawak narcotics police on June 9 this year. Photo by Ramidi Subari.

Nevertheless there is no let-up in the fight against drugs with Sarawak poised to be the first state to use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to detect drugs.

Jasmirol disclosed that these technology under the Ministry of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development, has already been approved by the Sarawak government.

It will be acquired soon and deployed together with other enforcement agencies to combat drugs.

“For example, one element is the eye-scanner. When we scan an individual suspected to be abusing drugs, we do not have check the person’s urine in the first instance. The urine test will only be done the second time.

“This technology is useful during road operations — we do not have to ask the person to urinate by the roadside and check to see if it is positive or not.

“With this eye-scanner, we can detect whether the person is using drugs in no more than 10 seconds. And if they are found using drugs, only then will we bring these people back to the district police headquarters for urine tests,” he said.

The department’s short-term plan in combating drugs is to strengthen intelligence and information gathering from the public on drug dens and pushers.

(Left to right) Jasmirol, Sarawak Police Commissioner Datuk Aidi Ismail and Serian police chief DSP Aswandy Anis, showing the Ecstasy pills and syabu worth RM260,000, which were seized on Mar 5 this year.

Jasmirol disclosed that the department will also intensify operations even in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Aside from that, the officers and members’ skills in combating drugs, will be improved. This means enhancing their skills in carrying out operations such as shooting training, carrying out operations in premises, how to stop vehicles, operations at sea and land as well as identifying drugs.

“In addition, the department will also be improving and tightening security at the border and four major airports in Sarawak – Kuching, Sibu, Miri, Bintulu,” he said.

Meanwhile, the long-term plan is to improve the strength of narcotic policemen in all districts in the state, by adding more personnel as there are only 363 narcotic policemen in 13 out of 28 districts in Sarawak.

Jasmirol said the remaining districts do not even have a narcotic officer, and to illustrate pointed to Song and Tatau districts where there are no narcotic officers stationed at all.

“In the 13 districts, there is at least one sergeant or one sergeant major there. Hence, there are not enough posts in Sarawak.

“Like in Song and Tatau, our (narcotic) people do not exist there. There are district police chiefs but they don’t have the narcotics expertise needed.

“So how are they supposed to know the type of drugs and its effects, seeing that there are various types of drugs in today’s world?,” he asked.

The matter has been brought up to the Bukit Aman police headquarters and the posts are expected to be filled up soon.

Additional narcotic posts in Sarawak, ACP Jasmirol said, will help bolster international cooperation, especially with Brunei and Indonesia.

Aside from that, it can help block the supply of drugs entering the state.

“The officers would then be able to go to remote areas or districts to conduct operations as well as cooperate more closely with Brunei and Indonesia at the international border.

“So far, the cooperation between the three countries (Malaysia-Brunei-Indonesia) is very good but it can be strengthened further with more narcotic manpower,” he said.

The department also plans to improve the skills of narcotic police officers and members with upcoming technologies to combat and eradicate drugs.

Miri police chief Hakemal Hawari (centre) showing the packages containing syabu worth RM167,000, which were seized on June 28 this year.

On drug seizures from January to August this year, he revealed that his department recorded the biggest seizure of syabu weighing 65.61kg worth RM4.59 million.

This amounts to an increase compared to last year’s seizure within the same period (Jan to Aug), involving 14.91kg syabu worth RM2.23 million.

As for marijuana seizures, he pointed out that there has been an increase this year as his department seized 13.16kg worth RM658,096, compared to last year’s figure of 1.20kg worth RM60,263.

Meanwhile, Jasmirol said his department seized 2.85kg of ketamine worth RM428,508 this year, a slight decline compared to last year’s seizure of 3.63kg worth RM545,862.

Ecstasy powders, Ecstasy pills and Erimin 5 pills also saw a reduction this year.

This year, a total of 16,428 Ecstasy pills and 27.84kg of Ecstasy powder were seized, all worth RM1.96 million. Last year’s figure on Ecstasy pills and powder seizures stood at 39,977 pills and 4.05kg of powder worth RM2.67 million.

“For Erimin 5 pills, the department seized 1,616 pills worth RM24,240 this year, a decrease compared to last year’s 5,656 Erimin 5 pills worth RM113,120,” he told.

Meanwhile, on arrests under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, the department recorded a total of 63 cases in both years (2020 and 2021) but, the arrest figure increased 122 percent as a total of 104 individuals were hauled up this year compared to 85 arrested last year.

Figures also declined this year involving arrests under Section 12(2) and Section 6 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. This year, the department recorded 854 cases and arrested 1,122 individuals under this section, compared to last year’s figure of 1,012 cases and 1,372 arrests.

For Section 6 of the same Act, he stated that they only recorded 16 cases and 20 arrests compared to last year’s figure of 50 cases and 55 arrests.

Under Section 15(1)(a) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, a total of 2,869 addicts were arrested this year, reflecting a 63 percent decrease compared to last year’s arrest of 4,577 addicts.

The largest drug seizure this year was recorded on March 24 where the department seized 23.734kg of syabu amounting to almost RM1 million (RM955,500). It involved the arrest of a 31-year-old man at a premises used to store drugs before being distributed to the markets around Kuching.

The second biggest seizure was made on Feb 25, involving 11.45kg of syabu amounting to approximately RM400,000. The team also arrested an Indonesian man in Lundu.