Taiwan a key player in SE Asia drug trade: U.N. report

Three Taiwanese, squatting from left, and a Thai man, squatting center in blue shirt, are displayed in front of stacks of heroin seized in a police raid, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand. The three Taiwanese men and the Thai were arrested by Thai police in Bangkok on Thursday for allegedly trying to smuggle 237 kilograms (522 pounds) of heroin out of the country, according to local media. Authorities said the Taiwanese planned to fly eight pieces of luggage filled with 678 bars of heroin to Hong Kong but were caught in a hotel on the outskirts of Bangkok. (AP Photo/Kom Chad Luek Newspaper, Khanathit Srihirundaj )THAILAND OUT

BANGKOK (CNA) — Criminal networks and chemists from Taiwan, along with major criminal groups and financers based in Hong Kong, Macau, China and Thailand, are the main players in drug production and trade in Southeast Asia, according to a United Nations report issued on July 18.

“There is strong evidence that an increasing number of transnational organized criminal groups originating outside the region are targeting Southeast Asia,” said the report, titled “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact” published by the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

According to the report, transnational organized criminal groups are essentially illicit businesses or networks driven by market forces like licit businesses, motivated to seek opportunities that offer the highest financial return.

Organized criminal groups mainly engage in illicit trade involving methamphetamine, heroin, trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants, wildlife, timber, counterfeit goods and illicit tobacco and falsified medicines, the report said.

It estimated the value of the Asia-Pacific market for methamphetamine at US$61.4 billion per year, and that of heroin at US$10.3 billion.

Over the past decades, networks based in Africa and Iran have engaged in transporting significant quantities of heroin and methamphetamine, while India-based criminal groups were identified as sources of ketamine and various percursor chemicals, the report said.

More recently, outlaw motorcycle gangs from Australia and New Zealand have established a number of chapters in Southeast Asia and are involved in drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and other crimes, according to the report.

Most of the methamphetamine found in Japan and the Republic of Korea has traditionally been sourced from China, with a small part imported from North America or produced domestically, the report said.

“However, in recent years, Southeast Asia has become an increasingly important source of crystalline methamphetamine for Japan and the Republic of Korea,” it said.

In terms of the number of trafficking cases, Southeast Asia became the primary embarkation point for methamphetamine seized in Japan in 2018, and Taiwan has also emerged as an important source since 2016, it said.

In 2017, Afghanistan was the country across the world where the largest quantity of acid anhydride — a substance key to the production of heroin — was seized, while Myanmar was the country in Southeast Asia where most acid anhydride was confiscated, the report said.

There are indications that some acid anhydride is being trafficked from Taiwan for the manufacture of heroin produced from Afghanistan opium, although Taiwan is not a major source of acetic anhydride, it said.

“This trend may have implications for Southeast Asia, given the increasing prominence of Taiwanese drug syndicates involved in methamphetamine trafficking in several countries in Southeast Asia,” the report said.

By Flor Wang and Lu Hsin-hui