Mediterranean Flowering of Asia – CNN

With many clues, they lose.

But this is not "Breaking Bad" – the method is not only used by the poor and the oppressed.

Meth no longer discriminates in Asia. has become the dominant drug of choice across the region, regardless of class, age or gender, according to Jeremy Douglas, who is in charge of the United Nations Drugs and Crime Organization (UNODC) in South East Asia.

In a career spanning 16 years, Douglas said he has never seen this demand.

"No situation is exactly comparable, but this is out of the map," he said.

Experts say the explosion is due to a serious combination of national and geopolitical issues that have been aligned for the benefit of the region's drug gangs.

The majority of methane production occurs deep within the jungles of the Golden Triangle, a legitimate area where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. Experts say it's easy to hide drug production there and move it in a short time.

Drug traffickers, meanwhile, are taking advantage of new roads and infrastructure built in the context of an ambitious $ 3 trillion Chinese initiative to link markets across the globe, using the flow of people and legitimate goods to conceal drug trafficking.

And profits, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars, are washed through sophisticated international systems, often using companies in countries where loose supervision makes it easy to conceal money.

"It's a perfect storm in the production of methamphetamine," says John Coyne, a former Australian federal police chief secret service chief, who is currently working on border security issues at Australia's Institute of Strategic Policy.

"It emphasizes South East Asia in what could be a methamphetamine epidemic for a long time".


Much of the methods confiscated throughout the Asia Pacific region have been identified in the northern Shan State of Myanmar, dominated by militias and warlords.

Perhaps most important is the United States Army of Wa (UWSA) and its political wing, the United States Party of the Party (UWSP).

The two of them conducted a long struggle for autonomy for the population of ethnic Wa, people sharing a common language and cultural and historical ties with their neighbors in the southern Yunnan province of China.

The Shan State has an exciting combination of a good poppy cultivating the climate and a lack of law enforcement. For years, the Golden Triangle has been the source of the majority of illicit heroin and opium in the world.

Western authorities have long been accused of UWSA and UWSP funding their armed struggle against Myanmar's central government with the profits from drug production. UWSA is believed to have around 30,000 fighters.

An army soldier of United Wa State in a poppy field in 1995.
Verifying any claim is extremely difficult. The North Caucasus is one of the most difficult places in the world to access. a joke is easier to get into North Korea. The UWSA gave journalists a rare visit to the region in 2016, during which they denied allegations of drug trafficking.

Official figures appeared to give credit to the claim that UWSA no longer produces heroin, at least at first glance. Gold triangle production and distribution has fallen, according to United Nations figures.

Authorities warn that this is likely because big players have cut heroin in favor of a new, cheaper alternative to producing: methamphetamine.

"There is a lot of evidence coming from across the region and pointing back to the same teams, pointing back to the same positions," Douglas said with the UNODC.

This photo, taken on June 26, 2017, shows an ethnic woman with a buffalo overlooking the United Wa State Army members in Poung Par Khem, near the Thai-Myanmar border.

UWSA's decision to enter the methane game, experts say, is partly a response to market forces but is also produced by profitability and ease of production.

Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug. It is made in a laboratory that uses chemicals and does not require the manufacturers of medicines to cultivate organic crops, such as poppies, as is the case with heroin.

These workshops can be covered by a tarp or moved in a short time. You can not do this with a poppy field.

A photo shared by the Myanmar Ministry of Defense shows a methane workshop seized in the North San Francisco in February 2018.


Once met, the next challenge is transfer. The Golden Triangle has been for years one of the poorest and most underdeveloped places in the world, but this is changing thanks to China's One Belt One Road Initiative – a huge infrastructure development project aimed at linking global, mainly emerging economies.

Beijing has big plans in Myanmar, where it has spent billions to link China's provincial Yunnan Province to the port cities of South and Southeast Asia. Laos and Thailand showed similar investments.

An undesirable side effect of these infrastructure improvements is that they have facilitated methane traders to transport products from deep into the Shan state to the rest of Southeast Asia, Coyne said.

"What you have is a large, legitimate trade of people, goods, etc., which flows from Myanmar and Laos, where you can hide your drugs," said Coyne.

Meth from the northern Shan state in the form of crystals and pills has been found as far as Japan, New Zealand and Australia. A record $ 1.04 billion of Australia's $ 800 million worth of meth, believed to come from Shan State, was found by the police in Western Australia in December.

This year, authorities carried out dozens of methane seizures in Thailand, China, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia.

The figures provided by the United Nations show significant flows of kyrstal metals into the Mekong River Delta region and beyond.

Impressively, it took only five months for seizures in Malaysia and Myanmar to overtake the overall 2017, according to Douglas.

While these busts could mean that law enforcement wins the fight against traffickers, it also shows that the huge amount of methane is moving.

Coyne warns of another possibility – that methane producers have gone into overproduction, which reduces the cost per unit of drug production, which in turn makes it easier for traders to live with these huge busts.

"They have the luxury of losing larger quantities and earning more profits," he said.

Thai General Chief General Police Chaktida Chidinda (second from right) is monitoring police officers to inspect seized drugs at a press conference in Bangkok on May 11th. Ten million yaba pills made in Myanmar and nearly half a ton of crystals with tea bags hidden from an escort in downtown Bangkok, the Thai police said.


All this money has to go somewhere and the police say drug dealers use complex financial networks to hide their profits.

The most prominent – at least public – is the case of Zhao Wei, a gambling tycoon accused by the US government of using his casino in Laos to help UWSA's sales of meth.

Casinos are used for money laundering because they are involved in so much money for cash, but Zhao has the added advantage of operating within what Douglas calls the UNODC "criminal ministerial state".

"It works like its own corking," said Douglas.

Zhao has reportedly negotiated a 99-year lease with the Lao government to operate what is known as the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone. The belt is located along the Mekong River crossing Thailand, Myanmar and Laos. In its center is the Kings Romans casino.

Zhao's agreement with the Lao government allows his business to operate according to its own set of unique laws, rules and regulations.

The only areas in which Zhao attributes to the central government are issues related to Lao's army, judiciary and foreign policy, Zhao said Chinese state media in 2011.

The system is seemingly designed to help attract foreign investors to the special economic zone. However, the US Treasury Department sanctioned Zhao and the casino in January, arguing that Zhao is using the loose regulation to facilitate the "maintenance and distribution of heroin, methamphetamine and other illicit drugs in neighboring Burma."

The exterior of the Kings Romans casino.

Zhao has consistently argued that the accusations against him are "unfounded".

"The unilateral sanctions of US governments in other countries and regions are unreasonable and ridiculous behavior for other purposes. This behavior has created deep misunderstandings for the global community, causing unnecessary concern to many investors and visitors," he said in February shortly after the decision of the Ministry of Finance, according to state media Laos.

"The investment and development of the Kings Romans Group are strictly in compliance with the law and have signed agreements, there are no reasons or incentives to conduct illegal operations, but we have worked with the Lao government to prevent and combat strictly illegal acts. "

The Department of Planning and Investment in Laos has not responded to CNN's request for comment, and the US drug enforcement agency has rejected CNN's request for an interview on this story "due to some ongoing case-related activities."

The entrance of the Kings Romans casino.

Cash flow

The US Treasury Department, which has not responded to CNN's request for comment on this story, claims that a major gear in the Zhao operation lies thousands of miles away from its casino in the hurry of Hong Kong.

This gear is a company called Kings Romans International (HK) Co., Limited. In January of this year, he and Zano were ratified by the Treasury.

According to the records of the US Treasury Department. and the Hong Kong Corporate Register, the company is housed in a Spartan office tower called Wu Chung House, located in a commercial district of the city's lively Wan Chai district, its weak rods.

The Treasury did not specify what exactly is happening in the office. Hong Kong, however, retains its reputation as a notorious center for moving dirty money, while city authorities openly acknowledge the problem.

"Our competitive advantages here – in particular, free flows of capital, people, goods and information, an established legal system, sophisticated market infrastructure and advanced professional services make our market attractive to criminals who try to hide or transfer funds or to avoid financial sanctions, "said Arthur Yiwen, HKMA Deputy Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in April, during a conference sponsored by the Union Trust Specialists against Xenophobia.

An entry to the Wu Chung home in Hong Kong's Wan Chai area.

The Kings Romans office is supposed to be at the end of a faintly illuminated corridor on the 36th floor of Wu Chung House, according to public records, but there was no sign when visiting CNN.

The list of the building shows that a company called Shuen Wai Holding Limited uses the office space. Property records confirm that Shuen Wai is the owner of the property.

Shuen Wai and the Roman Romans share something more than an address. Shuen Wai and one of the two executives of the company were approved by the US Treasury Department in 2008 amid allegations that the office was a key part of the financial network UWSA is using to make profits from drug sales.

"It is absolutely certain that UWSA will operate from Hong Kong, has a long history of mixing illegal with legal activities … and Hong Kong is the perfect place to do that for them," said Evan Rees , analyst at the Stratfor information company.

Below the dark corridor at the entrance of the office, Shuen Wai is the only business that is visible. Its name appears in bold uppercase letters above the office of the empty secretary. It is decorated with ornate wooden sculptures and marble floors, but with half the lights off and no one sees.

The fact that the business was particularly visible was a surprise to some of CNN's sanction specialists spoke with the case.

"They usually try to at least redefine the point, even if it's the same address and the same character stamp in front of you," said Peter Harrell, expert on sanctions at the New American Security Center, assistant secretary to fight the threat of funding and sanctions at the Office of Finance and Business Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Working 10 years without changing the name, that's pretty fresh."

When CNN hit the bell in the office, a middle-aged, fledged man replied. He said the company had been involved in the jade trade, but now he is working on the funeral.

He refused to give CNN his name, but said he was an account manager for the company for 20 years, during which he met the two people currently listed as co-directors of Shuen Wai. He said the twin is based in mainland China and only comes to Hong Kong a few times a year, two days at a time. He agreed to send them a message from CNN – which did not answer – and then dropped back to the office. When CNN called back two days later, the person said the couple was not willing to talk to CNN.

When asked about Wu Chung House's connections, Douglas of the UN stressed that each case was different and the age of a particular holding company was not something he could comment on.

"That said, if the holding company was a drug trafficking front for 10 years, it's serious enough and it's about to be investigated," said Douglas.

"If links are found and the activities of organized crime are confirmed, then some serious actions will have to be taken and questions should be asked about how a frontal company could last so openly in Hong Kong."

The Hong Kong authorities refused to comment when they were asked about the case.