A ton of Mexican methamphetamine found in South Korea and suspected of being bound for Australia has shown how Mexican synthetic drugs continue to make inroads in the Asia-Pacific.
On September 1, prosecutors in the southern port city of Busan detained and charged a Korean male in his 30s for importing 404 kilograms of methamphetamine from Mexico hidden in 20 helical gear drives, according to reporting by the Korea JoongAng Daily.
The outlet cites prosecutors as saying it is the country’s largest-ever methamphetamine seizure, though the man is believed to have – in conjunction with an Australian accomplice – trafficked another 500 kilograms in July 2020 that were not intercepted but instead successfully smuggled into Australia.
“The two men smuggled drugs into Korea because they thought that smuggling meth from Korea to Australia would be less likely to be caught than smuggling methamphetamine directly from Mexico to Australia,” said a prosecutor from the Busan District Prosecutor’s Office.
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It seems Australian authorities have since then detected both the route and smuggling method. In May, an investigation into a company importing helical gear drives led customs at the port of Sydney to seize 230 kilograms of methamphetamine in two shipments from South Korea.
Other Korean outlets have reported at least some of the drugs were destined for the domestic market. The Donga Ilbo newspaper claimed the original 404-kilogram methamphetamine cargo was meant to stay in the country, the remains of a larger amount that had been exported to Australia.
InSight Crime Analysis
Mexican methamphetamine is globalizing, with increasingly large quantities appearing not just in Europe but also Australia and East Asia. Yet as law enforcement agencies get better at identifying suspicious shipments and routes, traffickers look for alternatives – like South Korea.
With a strong reputation as a “drug-free” country, South Korea is a useful transit point for smugglers because it means they can avoid the stricter drug searches applied to cargo arriving directly from Mexico or – in the case of cocaine – Colombia, a South Korean official told the South China Morning Post in 2018.
Alongside its superb infrastructure, including the port of Busan, one of the world’s busiest container ports, that makes the country an increasingly attractive thoroughfare for both methamphetamine and cocaine from Latin America, states a recent report by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service seen by UPI.
From there, the drugs mostly go to China, Hong Kong or Australia, all three of which have well-established methamphetamine markets. However, while Mexico is a key embarkation point for methamphetamine seized in Australia, South Korea is not, according to Australia’s latest Illicit Drug Data Report.
It therefore represents a new transit route for traffickers, one that appears to be of growing importance. Besides the South Korean seizures, in November 2020 Hong Kong interdicted a record half-ton of methamphetamine in a container bound for Australia. Originating in Mexico, the container had transited in South Korea, as well as Vietnam.
In line with the news report of the seized Mexican methamphetamine staying in South Korea, it also appears consumption of the drug, particularly of crystal meth, has increased in the country in recent years, asserts the UNODC’s 2021 “Synthetic Drugs in East and Southeast Asia” report.