The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has seized 24kg of heroin with a street value of MVR36 million (US$2.2 million) in the largest drug haul from a police operation in the country’s history.
At a press briefing today, Superintendent Mohamed Rasheed, head of the Drug Enforcement Department (DED), revealed that the drugs were seized in a special operation conducted from March 4 to 10.
“I note at this opportunity that the 24kg of drugs was the largest amount of drugs seized in a police operation conducted in the Maldives so far,” Rasheed said.
The drugs were allegedly transported in a vessel named ‘Hormooz’ registered in Iran, Rasheed said, noting that the boat had visited the Maldives in the past ostensibly to purchase fish.
The boat had been put under police surveillance based on intelligence information suggesting that it was being used to smuggle drugs, he said, adding that a crew member had previously been arrested with drugs in his possession.
Four Maldivians, three Bangladeshis and 11 Pakistanis were taken into custody on March 10, Rasheed revealed, declining to disclose their identities at the current stage of the investigation.
The 11 Pakistani nationals were the crew and captain of the Iranian boat, he added.
The four Maldivians and three Bangladeshis met the boat 30 nautical miles off the coast of Alif Alif Mathiveri in a dhoni (traditional boat) to collect the drugs, he explained.
The drugs were then concealed under fibre boards in a dinghy, Rasheed continued.
Two of the suspects were seized by police after arriving on the dinghy in Hulhumale while their dhoni waited in the harbour.
The Iranian vessel was meanwhile captured at sea with coastguard assistance between Alif Alif and Baa atolls, Rasheed said.
Asked by reporters whether a police sergeant and a Maldivian man – Abdulla Shaffath – arrested in connection with the Artur brothers’ case last year were among the 18 suspects, Rasheed said he could not disclose details at present as it could hamper the investigation.
Rasheed however confirmed that a police officer had been arrested in connection with the drug haul while two of the Maldivian suspects had prior records for drug-related offences.
The Criminal Court has extended the pre-trial detention period of the 18 suspects by 10 days, he said.
While the street value of the drugs was estimated to be MVR36 million (US$2.2 million), Superintendent Rasheed noted that the drugs would likely be laced with “other powders” to increase its volume “two or threefold” before being sold.
The additional volume could potentially raise its street value to almost MVR100 million (US$6.5 million), he said.
Concluding the press briefing, Rasheed appealed to local fishermen to report sightings of foreign vessels unloading suspicious cargo at sea to the police or the coasstguard.