Seizures of large quantities of synthetic drugs and their precursor chemicals by Lao police in recent months point to renewed efforts by authorities to slow growing rates of addiction in the impoverished, one-party state, sources say.
In a major haul on July 23 at a warehouse near the border with Vietnam, police in central Laos’ Bolikhamxay province seized over 5 metric tons of chemicals used in the production of amphetamines, a senior police official told RFA’s Lao Service this week.
Assisted by police from neighboring Vietnam, authorities also took into custody 10 Lao citizens and a Thai national, identified as the leader of the gang, Lt. Col. Bouakheua Ratthanavongsa, the province’s deputy commander of police, said.
“Our investigation is still not complete; our report is being prepared,” Bouakheua said.
“Once the charges are ready, we will submit them to a prosecutor who will send them to the People’s High Supreme Court [in the capital, Vientiane] for a decision on whether to proceed to trial,” he said.
Describing the case as “severe” because of the large quantity of drug-producing chemicals seized, Bouakheua said that Lao law provides for the death penalty in large and important cases, noting too that the smugglers had regularly crossed the border with Vietnam.
Gang leader Lamphun Silaxa, a Thai national, had previously traded in coal and was able to avoid capture by transporting coal back and forth across the border, Bouakheua said.
“This is a big case, and a cross-national issue,” he said.
Crashes truck in escape
In a second recent case, Vientiane police in June arrested a man carrying ten full bags of amphetamines, taking him into custody after he collided with another vehicle while attempting to flee police, a law enforcement officer in charge of the case told RFA.
Khamwang, 38 and a native of Oudomxay province in northern Laos, was seized together with nearly 3 million pills of the synthetic drug on June 7 while driving south, the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“When he realized he was being followed, he increased his speed to avoid arrest, but his truck—a black Prado with license number 8777-—crashed into another truck, and he was seized by police,” he said.
“After an investigation, he was discovered to be connected to the relative of a government official in Vientiane province,” he added.
Most addicts in Laos are young and include Chinese and Vietnamese workers, sources say, adding that in many cases those hooked on drugs rob people in the street or break into people’s homes to support their habits.
The number of drug-related crimes in Laos rose last year to more than 1,600 compared to about 340 in 2013, according to the Lao Ministry of Public Security.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Richard Finney.