Malaysia: Asia’s Hottest Transit Hub for Drug Mules
Malaysia Skyline © Zukiman Mohammed
For all its beauty and majesty, many Asian regions continue to suffer from the scourge of illegal narcotics, prompting governments to impose stiff penalties and even the death penalty to those caught harboring and selling drugs.
Illegal narcotics often fly hundreds of kilometers from their countries of origin to reach their destination countries. Often, the supply of drugs is carried by individuals who, knowingly or unknowingly, become enmeshed in one of the most dangerous ‘industries’ in the world.
Malaysia’s Drug Mules
Malaysia isn’t having any luck either, with 23 Malaysians caught as drug mules in Hong Kong in the last year alone. Narcotics Crimes Investigations Department deputy director Zulkifli Ali was quoted by Malay Mail: “I myself was shocked when I was briefed of many were arrested overseas,”
“There is also a significant increase in locals getting arrested in Australia and South Korea. They will first be given a deposit payment and then the remainder once they return safely, but if their luck runs out and they are caught, they don’t get paid,” said Ali.
In January, eight Malaysians were charged for drug trafficking in Incheon, South Korea, after the group was caught with a total of 13.3 kilograms of methamphetamines. The total value of the drug hoard was estimated to be RM 161.4 million, and the eight passed through to Incheon via Gimhae International Airport. The drug mules strapped the one-kilogram and two-kilogram packs of methamphetamines to their legs and bellies in an attempt to circumvent airport security.
Since 2013, an estimated 425 Malaysian drug mules are detained globally in 19 different countries. Singapore has the largest chunk of arrests, with 175 Malaysian drug mules arrested since 2013. Next in the list is Thailand with 49, Australia with 34, and 21 for Japan. According to Malaysian authorities, the international syndicates that operate the drug rings in the country were often masterminded by African nationals and routinely recruited Malaysian women.
The international syndicates easily financed the international flights of the drug mules, many of which are willing accomplices because of the promise of fast cash. Each of the Malaysian drug mules were given RM 2,000 as pocket money and were promised more – up to RM 10,000 if succeeded in evading the police and anti-narcotics enforcers in the target countries.
The Social Media Component
Syndicates are now using Facebook and WeChat to contact potential drug mules, and they are succeeding – mostly in getting the drug mules arrested once they reach their intended target countries. One such case is Shirley (not her real name), a Kuala Lumpur resident who fell prey to these syndicates. She was 15 years old when she met strangers online who eventually gave her $660 in pocket money and a ticket to fly to Hong Kong.
She was told that it was going to be a “free holiday.” All she had to do was to carry a pair of shoes to Hong Kong. Another drug mule was given a second pair of shoes. She had succeeded several times before, and she had been confident that everything will go as planned. However, at the Hong Kong International Airport, she was unceremoniously caught red-handed, and carted off for attempting to smuggle a total of 700 grams of heroine.
Shirley had been profiled by airport security and was picked out specifically for a body search. Shirley’s parents back in Kuala Lumpur had no idea what their daughter had been getting into. For two months, they frantically searched for her – until they were contacted by the Hong Kong Correctional Services. Their daughter, Shirley, was facing 20 years in prison for trafficking drugs.
The International Element?
In a letter to the South China Morning Post, Chinese University of Hong Kong professor and prison chaplain Tobias Brandner, explained that drug mules and drug traffickers must be treated differently, because in many cases, the drug mules were either forced by circumstance or just attracted by quick profit due to their poverty.
The drug mules, Brandner argued, are also victims of the international drug syndicates and drug trafficking in general. It is also unfair, he said, that drug mules who are caught at the border are given an additional one or two years of jail time because of the “international element” associated with their capture. Local drug traffickers on the other hand, who are more immersed in the drug trade, do not receive the additional condemnation and jail time.