BY ALLAN JAY, GABRIEL LIHAN AND JASMINE BADUN
THERE’S a reason why illicit drugs are billed society’s Number One enemy. It is a scourge that debilitates, even decimates, thus threatening the very fabric of society, not only on our shores but the world over.
It explains why much effort, time and money is spent on keeping a lid on the problem if not wiping it out altogether.
In Sarawak this arduous task is shouldered by the Sarawak Narcotics Criminal Investigation Department (NCID) of the police force.
And despite the obvious challenges in curbing the menace, the perpetrators of which have gained notoriety with their dogged efforts to elude the long arms of the law, the authorities have had a creditable measure of success in tackling drug-related crimes in the state.
Former NCID Sarawak chief ACP Jasmirol Jamaluddin, 47, who took up a new posting in Kuala Lumpur last month sat down with New Sarawak Tribune and sister paper Suara Sarawak prior to leaving.
In what turned out to be an exhaustive interview he shared the department’s success and challenges in combating drugs, on threats with the reopening of the international borders and his experience in dealing with drug issues in the state compared other states in the peninsula.
NST & SS: During your term as the NCID chief in Sarawak, can you tell us how drugs found their way to the state; can you enlighten us?
JASMIROL: Looking at the drug scenario in Sarawak, I would say that most of the drugs brought from the peninsula came by air via cargo and courier services.
We managed to curb the entry of drugs into Sarawak and one of the efforts we made was to ensure the main entry points such as airports, ports and along the borders of Kalimantan, Indonesia, are tightly monitored.
We also ensured that our men had high-technology equipment provided by the Sarawak government through the One-Stop Community Centre to thwart efforts to bring drugs into the state.
There are a lot of courier service companies in the state, more than 40 types of companies. Four districts namely Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu and Miri, are where courier services are frequently used by drug traffickers and there have been arrests.
Drugs that enter Sarawak are not just for the use of addicts but also transit here. Why transit? These drugs will then be brought into Indonesia because the market price there is very high.
For example, 1kg of syabu at present is estimated to be around RM35,000 to RM45,000 while in the neighbouring country, the price is twice as high. This shows that drug use in the neighbouring country is high and Sarawak is one of the transit points for the traffickers to deliver drugs to the neighbouring country.
Thus, with strong border control, the right strategies and close cooperation between the two countries, I am sure that this activity can be eliminated.
NST & SS: What about the entry of drugs via river, and water routes, which are on the coast, especially close to Indonesia?
JASMIROL: Let us take it like this, we all have seen the borders in Lawas and Limbang, there are rivers.
Those are means for drug entry from the northern part – meaning from Sabah to Brunei and into Sarawak. The same also applies at the Indonesian borders.
They use riverine routes. If we look at Telok Melano and Lundu, they can smuggle drugs via the sea route and enter Sarawak from the Sambas district border.
Nothing stands in their way, be it land, hills, sea or rivers. Whatever route they can penetrate, they will do so in order to ensure the supply reaches the users.
NST & SS: In Sarawak, what is the most common type of drugs that are seized by the department?
JASMIROL: Syabu. In 2021 alone, syabu was the most seized with a value of RM14.3 million in the state. It is one of the main types of drugs and also fetches the highest demand in Sarawak.
This is in comparison to the peninsula where heroin is used much more. This drug is obsolete, it is outdated and has been on the market for a long time but there are still people using it.
That is why in Sarawak, there is no heroin because the addicts prefer syabu. However, the use of syabu in the state is limited. People who have money can afford it and those who do not will have no choice but to rob.
NST & SS: Given that the country’s borders have reopened, what are the control measures taken by the department?
JASMIROL: There are a total of eight Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) Complexes in the state. The first thing we will do is to tighten security at the border, especially with the influx of tourists. With that, our manpower will increase.
Secondly, the department has received a budget from the Sarawak government for the purchase of Instant Visual Drug Detector (IVDD) scanners to scan the eyes in order to detect any drug dealers or addicts.
This technology will be placed at the borders to ensure that there is no involvement or distribution of drugs taking place in the area. Indirectly, it will also reduce the entry of drugs into the state or the output of drugs from Sarawak.
NST & SS: Of the eight entry points/CIQs in Sarawak, which one is most used to smuggle drugs into the state?
JASMIROL: So far, in these two years of COVID-19, we have yet to see anything on this.
Majority of them use illegal routes to bring drugs in. So, we are not sure which entry point is used for drug smuggling activities.
Therefore, we don’t know the statistics or data behind what will happen once the border reopens.
They normally use illegal routes along the Sarawak-Kalimantan border to bring drugs in but to get more accurate through these CIQs, we would have to have data or statistics.
NST & SS: With advanced technologies being the new thing there have been drug dealers trying to supply drugs using drones, what is your view on this?
JASMIROL: If we look at countries like Mexico, the United States or Colombia, cross-border drug smuggling using drones is indeed happening.
However, in our country, drug smuggling has not reached this sort of level yet. We have not seen people try this thing at the border.
How much drugs can one drone carry? Can it lift 10kg, 20kg or 50kg of drug supplies? It is impossible.
Even if it can carry, it will only be 1kg or 2kg of drugs. So they would rather sneak drugs into a truck, or in the tyres in large quantities. They can save costs and fear less about being detected because these things are concealed in this way.
It is easier for them to earn money, as a result of activities like these. If they were to use a drone worth around RM1,000 to RM2,000 and it drops/is damaged, then it is okay. But if the drone costs around RM5,000 to RM10,000, then it is not worth it to use to deliver drugs that way.
NST & SS: During your term as the NCID chief, can you share the department’s success on drug seizures in Sarawak for 2020 and 2021?
JASMIROL: If we look at the total drug seizure value in 2020 compared to 2021, it shows a sharp increase, even with the COVID-19 pandemic situation and the implementation of the movement control order (MCO).
In 2020, the department seized RM15.22 million worth of drugs, compared to last year’s value of RM19.86 million. This indicates an increase of RM4.64 million from 2020 to 2021.
When we look at the data or number of drug seizures, it clearly shows the influx of drugs in Sarawak during COVID-19 was still happening and the number rising.
NST & SS: In regards to drug arrests and charges during those two years, what were the figures like?
JASMIROL: In order to curb drug addiction, one of the biggest fears among repeat drug offenders is Section 39C of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.
If we look at Section 39C, if the suspect was arrested for the third time, he/she will be sentenced to a mandatory jail term of five years with three lashes of the whip.
A total of 236 repeat drug offenders were charged under this Section in both years – 118 suspects in 2020 and another 118 suspects in 2021. The key performance indicator (KPI) given by Bukit Aman police headquarters under this Section is 150 per cent, Sarawak has already reached a percentage of 236 per cent.
This is an effort carried out by the department to ensure drug offenders remain fearful of the consequences.
This is apart from the special preventive measures the department is taking on traffickers who are in Sarawak.
Bukit Aman’s KPI in terms of prosecution rate for drug possession and supply cases in 2020, was 85 per cent. The number of investigation papers opened by Sarawak NCID was 2,050 and of the figure, 1,767 have been prosecuted, which is equivalent to 86 per cent of the cases. This proves that Sarawak reached its prosecution rate KPI in that year.
Similarly, in 2021, the KPI was 50 and the number of investigation papers opened was 1,824 and the number of suspects prosecuted was 1,571, which is also 86 per cent.
Every person that we arrest, will be prosecuted in court. Every time we take action we make sure they are punished.
On the confiscation of properties from traffickers or those involved in drugs, the KPI set by Bukit Aman in 2020, was RM2.8 million but the department achieved the target with RM6 million worth of drug trafficking properties confiscated.
In 2021, the KPI given by Bukit Aman was RM2.9 million and the target was easily achieved by the department with RM3.8 million. Among the confiscated properties were houses, vehicles, money, jewellery and even land.
We do this to ensure they no longer have the resources to buy drugs to be brought into Sarawak and to be given to drug abusers.
NST &SS: Is drug smuggling often done in collusion with the locals or is there a syndicate that masterminds this activity?
JASMIROL: Yes but, such information is still in our investigation. Last year, we managed to cripple a total of eight drug syndicates in the state.
NST & SS: Are these syndicates in Sarawak related to foreign countries?
JASMIROL: No, even if they are, they will join those in the peninsula. They will send the drugs from the peninsula to Sarawak and, there are groups from Sarawak who will wait for the supply before repacking and distributing the drugs. If there are some to be sent to Kalimantan, Indonesia, there are other groups that will be bring it to the border.
If we look at the arrests under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 which carries the death sentence, in 2021, we recorded a total of 165 arrests from 97 cases compared to 155 arrests from 82 cases in 2020, which shows an increment in arrests and cases.
We will make sure the punishment imposed is commensurate with what they did. Not necessarily Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, some of the drug syndicates will be punished under different previsions such as Section 12 (2) or Section 39A (1) or Section 39 (2) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.
NST & SS: In the two years of COVID-19, the number of drug cases in the state increased despite the country being placed under MCO and everyone was sitting at home. How did the figure increase?
JASMIROL: In those two years, the people were not supposed to leave their houses due to movement restrictions, unless necessary.
In addition, entertainment centres were closed and a curfew was imposed. With that, those who normally abuse drugs as a stress reliever, could not do so or even get their supplies.
However, the number of drug-related arrests and seizures was high during that period.
If we look at the arrests, they often took place in budget hotels, rented apartments or condominiums, where they often held parties.
This is what we call ‘private parties’, a new phenomenon during the pandemic. The people did not have any choice but to go and have fun.
If they rent a hotel room that costs around RM300 to RM500, they can invite their friends (about 10 to 15) to split the costs. The demand exists and that is where the supplies also come in.
Courier services also played a role for these drug suppliers. They would use the courier service to send drug packages over unbeknown to the courier company.
When we inspected the packages and examined the details (receiver), we found that the address did not exist and fake phone numbers were used.
Indirectly, the drugs entering Sarawak in that period, were not just meant for entertainment purposes but also for personal use and to be sold to neighbouring countries like Brunei and Kalimantan-Indonesia.
NST & SS: What do you think of the department’s performance on combating drugs under your leadership in Sarawak?
JASMIROL: The NCID has been working very hard with various strategies, ideas and knowledge suggested by me, they will continue to fight and continue the efforts in this war against drugs.
Every day, there have been a lot of drug arrests. These are due to the continuous and successful efforts of my officers and members, which will be continued until the end.
Even though I come from the peninsula, I always make sure that where I work and earn a living, is drug-free because that is my responsibility.
I have to work hard to make sure that in Sarawak if possible, there are no drug issues at all. But our efforts must be strong, not half-hearted.
We have to work with all our hearts, sincerity and integrity like what our Bukit Aman NCID director Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said regarding integrity being one of the main factors. Integrity must be number one, secondly, this job must be carried out sincerely. It must be done until it is truly finished.
In Sarawak, I have gone to numerous districts – Kapit, Long Busang, Long Akah, Matu-Daro, Belaga, Tatau and Kanowit. I can say that I have gone to these districts up to the hinterlands.
Two months ago, I visited a longhouse in Kanowit where I met with the longhouse chief and gave motivation talks as well as explained how drugs could get into the longhouse.
This shows that I reached the rural areas, if such effort is not continued, then it will just stop there. This effort to educate the public on the danger of drugs has to be done to the end, work to the end, let us not work halfway.
NST & SS: In your term as Sarawak NCID chief, what do you think of the challenges or experiences here compared to other states?
JASMIROL: Sarawak’s geographical terrain makes the fight against drugs much more challenging than even in the Klang Valley.
I have had the experience of serving as the Kuala Lumpur NCID Deputy Chief from 2017 to 2020. Throughout my career between Klang Valley and Sarawak in terms of narcotics, I have seen significant differences especially, in the topography of Sarawak.
It is not easy here as there is a lot of mountainous terrain and also given its vast long borders. Unlike in Klang Valley where if we want to go somewhere it will only take less than 20 to 25 minutes. The traffic jam there is also normal.
For example, when a police officer makes a drug arrest in Kampung Sungai Asap in Belaga, it takes two hours to reach the scene and arrest the suspect; another four hours to Bintulu to bring the suspect for investigation; and then another five hours to Miri to bring the suspect to court.
This is one of the most impressive endeavours for me. It is not easy to make arrests in rural areas compared to small places or big places in the peninsula. A small place in the peninsula is not so bad. However, it is a totally different scenario in Sarawak.
I applaud the hard work shown by our officers to tackle the drug issue in the state, despite the distance and difficulties. They are willing to spend two hours in the heat to make arrests.
Aside from that, if there is an arrest by the border it would take some time to travel there, sometimes using a four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle is necessary, especially through logging roads.
Secondly, the drug threat in Sarawak is not as menacing as in the peninsula, where drugs come in tonnes but in Sarawak, the supply of drugs comes in smaller quantities like 10kg and 20kg.
Nevertheless, what is best in Sarawak is the tremendous support from the state government.
The same goes with the support given by respective District Officers to the police officers, which has been great as well.
Whatever our request in combating drugs, everyone assists us – the Sarawak government, Pemadam, Education Department, Pathology Department, Chemistry Department and even the Prisons Department.
NST & SS: With your new post as the Kuala Lumpur NCID chief, what is your message to the officers and members of Sarawak NCID?
JASMIROL: My message to them is to strengthen integrity. Second, carry out the work sincerely, work it to the end. Let the community know what we are doing, our purpose is sincere, to make sure there are no drugs in their settlements.
Third, ensure our policing spirit is cultivated among the teams, as well as with the Sarawak government and the community, to fight drugs because drugs are the number one enemy not only in Malaysia but around the world.