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The discovery of hard drugs in Fiji

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, July 08, 2014

For long, marijuana was the only known illicit drug in Fiji.

But in the past few years, other types of drugs have also been found in the country, mostly at airports and post offices.

These "hard drugs", as they are commonly known, that have been found here include cocaine, heroin and crystal methamphetamine to name a few.

In 2004, a joint operation by the police and Customs officers resulted in the discovery of $1billion worth of crystal methamphetamine or ice and chemicals used to manufacture it.

A few years before this biggest bust in the Southern Hemisphere for 2004, the police raided a house in Suva and seized 357 kilograms of heroin destined for Australia.

However, the question that often arises is whether "hard drugs" are also available on the streets of Fiji like marijuana or not.

Marijuana is illegal in the country but from police reports, it is known that some people are still cultivating it and selling it to those who use it.

As the final part of our series on the "hard drugs" issue today, The Fiji Times brings you an analysis on the trade, which in most cases is the work of Asian organised crime syndicates.

IT has somewhat become a topic of discussion for many people in recent years and days.

At one time, the only illicit drug that was being talked about in the country was marijuana.

The drug, which is illegal in the country, is said to have been introduced in Fiji by indentured labourers from India in the late 1800s.

But for some time now, there have been reports of other drugs apart from marijuana being found at various places.

There have been cases of the discovery of cocaine, heroin and crystal methamphetamine to name a few, which are known as "hard drugs".

With the discoveries have also come the arrests of some people suspected of trafficking the illicit drugs into the country, either by air travel or through parcels posted to people in the country.

Going down memory lane, the police intercepted 357 kilograms of heroin worth around $500million in Suva in 2000 and arrested some Asian nationals.

Following that bust, there were other little cases of cocaine seizures at the airports and post offices by police and Customs officers.

Considering that the trend for organised crime is that they will come back after being taken down, they did make a comeback.

It was between 2003 and 2004 when the Asian organised crime gang came up with the ice laboratory at Laucala Beach Estate, outside Suva City.

A team of seven police officers and three Customs officers had the laboratory and other places under surveillance for 13 months before they carried out raids in June 2004.

When the raids were being carried out in Fiji, the police in Malaysia and Hong Kong also carried out raids in their countries at the same time.

The $1billion bust in 2004 was classified by Interpol as the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere that year, something that not only shocked Fijians but the world too.

It is being used as a case study for police officers in some Asian countries as they also try to nip the drug trafficking problem in the bud.

Following the 2004 bust, the situation appeared to be quiet until a few years ago when "hard drugs" were once again discovered in the country.

There have been reports of cocaine and ice in particular being found at either airports or post offices in the country recently.

But the question that arises is whether hard drugs are really available in the country or that Fiji is only a transit point for such illicit drugs.

Fiji Police Force's chief administration officer, Assistant Commissioner of Police Henry Brown told The Fiji Times recently that hard drugs were not available on Fiji's streets.

"There's no market for that in Fiji, it's too expensive. We have not caught anyone yet for being in possession of or selling hard drugs on the streets," he had said.

ACP Brown had also said the police believed they had disrupted the recent trend of trafficking, especially that of hard drugs.

He said more could be done by the police through their combined efforts with other agencies in the country, like the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority.

The senior police officer said the police had come a long way in sharing relevant information with other agencies like the Customs department on tackling the drug problem.

But while the police have stated a few times that there is no market for "hard drugs" in Fiji, FRCA believes otherwise.

Last week, the authority confirmed that there was a market for the sale and purchase of hard drugs in Fiji, after the fifth bust was recorded in five months at Nadi International Airport.

FRCA chief executive officer Jitoko Tikolevu told The Fiji Times that the trade could be confirmed just by looking at the trend of drug interceptions at the country's borders.

Mr Tikolevu said detections had been made by the police and Customs in recent weeks and months, saying it was very regular now.

"The trend dictates and shows clearly that yes, it is coming. Perhaps given the flights coming through our borders as well as the frequency of yachts and boats, the target really is developing nations like Fiji and the Pacific Islands," he said.

However, the Commissioner of Police Bernadus Groenewald said there were isolated issues that came up but it was not a threat at present, saying "we are not an open border for these types of drugs to be entered into".

"But we must accept that any developing country is susceptible to these drug lords because on one side they are aware of the fact that we do not have all the support of technology in place," he had said.

The police and FRCA have been working closely to tackle the drug trafficking problem but their statements on the availability of "hard drugs" on Fiji's streets are contradictory.

While the police say there is no market for "hard drugs" in the country, FRCA thinks otherwise and says the market does exist because of the frequency of drug interceptions at the ports and post offices.

Since the police have said that they had not arrested anyone yet for selling hard drugs on the streets or for being in possession of the same, it cannot be confirmed if a market for hard drugs did exist in the country or not.

As it is often said, only time will tell if there is another ice factory operating in the country and if there is a market for "hard drugs" in the country or not.


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