A shipment of 439 cartons containing ready-made garments was supposed to leave Dhaka on Friday morning for Saudi Arabia – a Middle Eastern country – on a cargo plane of Saudia Airlines.
The package of denim jeans and sweaters, booked in the name of M/S Siam and Somi Enterprise under the address of 26/2 West Nondipara at Dhaka's Khilgaon, was subjected to a routine check on Thursday. However, Airport Aviation Security (AVSEC) detected something suspicious inside a few cartons. They sent them for a second check.
After a thorough search on Friday morning by the security team, packets of orange-coloured tablets came out, one after another, from the pockets of the jeans and sweaters. The packets contained about 39,000 contraband yaba pills worth around Tk1.16 crore, which were headed for the Saudi Arabian market.
Of late, yaba smuggling to the Middle East, under the guise of apparel exports, has been on the rise, with law enforcement agencies catching at least 10 consignments of the drug in Dhaka and Chattogram airports in the last year.
Allegedly, these contraband pills are specifically sent to different middle eastern countries – including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Iraq, and others – for Bangladeshi migrant workers, many of whom are addicted to them.
Nowadays, drug dealers may have changed their plans of smuggling yaba in small quantities through migrant carriers and, instead, have chosen to send the drug in large quantities with apparel items on cargo planes.
The involvement of migrant workers in the drug trade is threatening Bangladesh's labour exports as more and more Bangladeshis are being detained at airports worldwide with drugs. However, the kingpins remain off the grid, said sources at the Department of Narcotics Control and Bangladesh Police.
Friday's shipment of yaba was supposed to be sent to Apariz International EST, Riyadh, owned by Abdul Aziz Mohammad Al Mosharrot while its carrier was Transpeed Global Logistics – a freight forwarding company.
Friday's consignment was going to Saudi Arabia for the Bangladeshi migrant workers there, Md Shahriar Alam, additional superintendent of police of the AVSEC, confirmed The Business Standard.
He also said the Saudi-bound apparel consignment had the yaba pills in three cartons and a case has been filed on the issue.
Previously, on 24 December last year, a Saudi-bound passenger was arrested with 10,600 yaba pills at Chattogram Shah Amanat International Airport.
During June-December in 2019, five yaba consignments were caught at the airport, where five carriers were also arrested at that time, said Abdullah Al Mamun, an inspector at Patenga Police Station.
Alamgir Hossain Shimul, additional superintendent of police (operations and media) of Airport Armed Police Battalion (AAPBn), said drug dealers now cannot smuggle large consignments of yaba through migrant carriers. That is why they have chosen to smuggle yaba through cargo planes carrying export items.
In recent one and a half years, the AAPBn arrested at least five migrant carriers who were smuggling yaba in their luggage, he said.
"When we asked them, they claimed they were carrying the tablets on a small scale as some of their colleagues abroad were addicted to the drug but it was not available there," he also said.
However, it is very alarming that migrants in middle eastern countries have also been ensnared by yaba, he added.
In a dialogue with the Chattogram district police on 5 January, 2019, a few expatriates claimed yaba was being smuggled from Bangladesh to middle eastern countries through airports.
They said a few drug dealers were luring "innocent" migrants to carry the pills and asked police to tighten security at the Shah Amanat International Airport to protect the country's image.
Drug cartels are now increasingly using migrant workers as mules, telling them to carry presents back home to their families. In some cases, unsuspecting migrants try to do a fellow national a favour and become involved unknowingly. In some cases, they try to earn some extra money, said Alamgir Hossain Shimul.
Dr Mohit Kamal, a mental health specialist, said yaba tablets are much easier to carry due to their small size.
"Yaba tablets make people feel vivacious. Yaba addicts can stay awake night after night. The drug increases sexual excitement too, which may lead the expatriates to the yaba addiction to feel 'better' abroad," he added.