Sniffer dogs locate drugs at Maafushi jail

The police drug enforcement department and the Maldives correctional services conducted a joint operation in Maafushi jail yesterday using sniffer dogs to locate drugs.

Tuesday’s 14-hour operation was the first time dogs were used to search a Maldivian prison.

Superintendent Ahmed Shifan, head of the drug enforcement department, told the press today that the dogs located 25 rubber packets containing hash oil and five packets containing heroin.

A large number of mobile phones, SIM cards and chargers was also confiscated from the cells, Shifan said.

He added that police are working with the correctional service to prevent the entry of drugs and phones to the high security prison. Prison guards have previously been caught smuggling drugs for inmates.

The correctional services had also confiscated 200 packets of illicit narcotics during a search operation in November last year.

Home minister Umar Naseer brought in 16 puppies from the Netherlands in March to tackle the Maldives’ entrenched drug abuse and trafficking problem.

The dog squad or ‘K9 unit’ reportedly cost the government US$40,000. Custom-made kennels have been established at the airport, and the government has brought in British and Dutch trainers to train police officers on working with the dogs.


Police seize 2kg of hash oil

Police have arrested three men and a woman with about 2kg of hash oil after searching two residences in Malé.

The drug intelligence and drug enforcement departments raided two houses in the Maafanu ward of the capital with search warrants in the early hours of Monday (October 6).

The Criminal Court subsequently granted a five-day extension of remand detention for the four suspects. Police revealed that the male suspects were aged 31, 34, and 37 and the female suspect was 20 years of age.


Is the government protecting the youth from drugs?

Last weekend’s raid of the Anbaraa island music festival was defended by police as being part of law enforcement efforts to “safeguard youth and the society from dangers of drugs”.

But how successful are the current methods in keeping the youth away from drugs?

Beginning with soft drugs in the seventies, and later with the introduction of heroin around 1993, the drugs issue became a national epidemic in the nineties with the number of drug-related offenses increasing rapidly since that time.

The National Drug Use Survey (NDUS) of 2011-2012, conducted by the UNODC, revealed that there were 7,496 drug users aged between 15 and 64 years in the Maldives. According to the survey, 72 percent of the drug using population was under the age of 24, and 48 percent of the drug users in the capital Malé were between 15 and 19 years.

A 2003 Rapid Situation Assessment by the Narcotics Control Board revealed that the age at which young people start using drugs ranged between 10-27 years (a mean age 16.8 years).

Those young people are often arrested and sentenced to long periods in prison, while more and more join them in becoming frequent users and addicts.

It has been suggested that Maldivian prison population could be reduced by up to two-thirds if the government would decriminalise the offence of drug usage and propose mandatory rehabilitation.

Rehabilitating rehab

The NDUS report said the Maldives’ response to the drug problem appeared to be skewed heavily towards the criminal justice system rather than health and social welfare systems.

Considering this, the report proposed turning this around by approaching the issue from three broad angles – supply reduction, demand reduction, and harm reduction.

One key achievement in this change was the Drug Act, introduced in 2011 with provisions for treating drug users instead of opting for incarceration. Under the Act, the National Drug Agency (NDA) has been mandated as the lead agency dealing with all issues related to drug prevention, harm reduction, and treatment.

A Drug Court was also formed under the new act as part of a policy shift away from taking a punitive approach against small-scale drug offenses.

Earlier this month, the NDA reported that 101 offenders have completed their drug rehabilitation programme. But how successful is this programme?

Mohamed Shuaib, the CEO of ‘Journey’ – a support NGO for recovering addicts – said the rehabilitation programme in the Maldives had failed completely.

“Three months later they start using again. While a lot of money is spent on these programmes, right now it is just a small prison. There is no good treatment programme there,” he said.

He highlighted various failures ranging from the programme’s structure and staffing capacity, to unrepaired damages at the buildings and the lack of capacity in the programme itself.

Mohamed Rashad – the 24-year-old found dead after a heroin overdose on April 1 – is a testament to this failure. He passed away within 24 hours of being released from the Himmafushi drug rehabilitation centre.

A full programme

Earlier this month, the Drug Court’s Judge Mahaz Ali Zahir said that the NDA had informed the court that one of its centres was full in April last year. Again this month the second centre in Maafushi was also reported to be full.

“People in prisons who have been sentenced to rehabilitation are also waiting for such an opportunity. If this stays this way the [expected] result of [establishing] the Drug Court will not be seen,” the judge has said.

Judge Mahaz called on authorities to speed up the process of sending cases to the court, stating that out of 1,616 cases only 19 were submitted within a month of the incident.

Fathimath Afiya, the Chairperson of the Society For Women Against Drugs (SWAD) said the rehabilitation programme currently only existed “just for name’s sake”.

“We visited the [rehabilitation center] place for an assessment just around the time the new government came to power. And it is true, the programme is there just for name’s sake,” she said.

“There is no stable programme. The place is full. There are so many issues. While the Drug Court is sending more and more people, there is no stable programme for them.”

Afiya said the government had started taking action regarding the issue now, and that SWAD was closely following it.

“SWAD is lobbying to work towards a long term strategic solution, based on a strategic action plan and prevention policy. The government is listening to our recommendations and bringing small changes already.”

She said the importance of following a systematic plan is to work realistically towards a solution instead of having every new government introducing something new with each new term.

Long term reform

Journey’s Shuaib also noted the importance of having a long term plan to addressed the issue.

“There have never been any research and evidence based prevention programmes in the Maldives. It is always an ad hoc approach. Our outreach teams have observed that there are a lot of new users now.”

Shuaib said prevention is of the utmost importance and, since children start using drugs, parental guidance and providing children with information will help them make the right choice.

“Even in the US their policy was using guns and force but it did not work. So now they are reforming their drug policy to focus on prevention. Prevention is more important. Young people who were using hash oil three or four years back are now using heroin,” Shuaib said.

Speaking to Minivan News, one recovering heroin addict said the programme ‘s failure could be connected to the Drug Act itself.

“Every one at the programme does not always want to deal with their issue. Many  just don’t care about it and are there only because they have been ordered to do so. This makes things harder for those of us who genuinely want to get better,” he said.

While Minivan News was unable to get a comment from NDA regarding the issue, all NGOs expressed hope that the programme can be saved, with the agency currently taking steps towards reform.

Supply, demand, and harm

In terms of supply reduction, drugs confiscated by the Maldives Customs Service while being imported to the Maldives in 2013 include 6.98 kg of heroin and 10.73 kg of hashish oil, while the numbers in 2012 were 4.12 kg of heroin along with 8.39 kg of hashish oil.

This is relatively small amount compared to what is being imported to the country, considering the huge demand. The 24 kg of heroin seized by police last month gives an idea of the true scale of the problem.

Last year police dealt with 38 cases of buying and selling of drugs and 130 cases of trafficking drugs, while there were 2,139 drug use cases and 833 possession cases. Even less is done with regards to major drug dealers.

With regards to large-scale drug dealers, previous attempts by former President Nasheed to apprehend some of the nation’s most prominent drug dealers failed to bear fruit. Among them, Adam Naseer was found innocent by the Criminal Court despite police finding over MVR6million (US$461,500) in cash and drugs just outside his home.

In  June 2011, police arrested another ‘top dealer’ Ibrahim ‘Shafa’ Shafaz, finding 896 grams of illegal drugs in his apartment.  This February he left the Maldives for ‘medical treatment’ and has appealed his eighteen year jail term to the High Court from abroad.

While NGOs seem hopeful about fixing the rehabilitation program, a complete change in policy and approach to the drug issue is needed to protect the youth from drugs.

These examples only provide further evidence – if it is needed – that a more efficient way must be devised, moving away from the criminal justice system approach, towards a method based more closely on supply, demand, and harm reduction.


All 79 suspects arrested from Anbaraa festival tested positive for drugs, police reveal

All 79 suspects taken into police custody from the island of Anbaraa in Vaavu atoll tested positive for drugs, police have revealed.

Briefing the press today, Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh explained that police received intelligence information suggesting that alcohol and drugs were being used and sold at the two-day music festival held on the uninhabited island.

Police raided the island with a court order at midnight on Friday night (April 18), he noted.

The Drug Enforcement Department, Specialist Operations, police intelligence department, and the forensic department conducted the operation, Satheeh said.

Upon searching the island as well as the 198 partygoers, Satheeh said police discovered different types of drugs and more than MVR90,000 (US$5,836) in cash.

In addition to beer cans, the drugs confiscated from the island included pills, LSD stickers, and hash oil joints as well as rubber packets, cellophane packets, and film canisters containing cannabis, Satheeh said.

The drugs, beer cans, and cash were displayed in a video presentation at the press briefing.

While all 198 persons on the island were held and searched, the chief inspector noted that the 79 individuals were arrested after drugs were found either in their possession or at the scene.

Police revealed earlier that the 79 suspects included one female minor, 19 women and 59 men, including one foreign male.

While the remaining 119 were released without charge, Satheeh revealed that none of them were tested for drug use.

Arrangements were not in place to conduct drug tests on the island, he added.

The 79 persons taken into custody were arrested either with drugs in their possession or because police suspected they were under the influence of drugs, Satheeh noted.

Contrary to media reports claiming that a number of people were naked, Satheeh said individuals of both genders were “wearing revealing clothing” when police raided the island.

Asked about the organisers of the festival and lease holder of the uninhabited island, Satheeh said he could not disclose further details as the initial stage of the investigation.


Police discover kingsnake, tarantula in drug bust

Police arrested a Maldivian couple on Thursday night with drugs, a snake and a Mexican red-kneed tarantula from Henveiru Lucky Shade house in Male’.

Police raided the residence with a search warrant at about 11:15pm and found the drugs and pets in the couple’s room.

The albino banded California kingsnake was kept illegally as a pet, police said.

The couple – a 28-year-old man and 27-year-old woman – were taken into custody with a film canister containing illicit narcotics and a counterfeit US$100 note.

Police also revealed that the male suspect had a criminal record for drug-related offences.

The California kingsnake is not the first exotic animal discovered in a recent drug bust. Last week, police found a 4-feet long snake during a drug operation on the island of Himmafushi in Kaafu atoll.

The snake was reportedly a royal python – a non-venomous African species often kept as pets.

In a drug bust in the capital Male’ last January, police discovered a caged slow loris. The importation and sale of the endangered primate species is illegal in the country.

In November last year, police arrested three men from a residence in Male’ with 15 bottles of Finlandia vodka, 24 cans of beer and three snakes.

A police media official told Minivan News at the time that two of the snakes were of a dangerous species and were listed as contraband.


Police seize drugs worth over MVR70,000

Police have arrested a 19-year-old man from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll with 271 cellophane packets containing illicit narcotics.

According to police media, the street value of the drugs is estimated to be in excess of MVR70,000 (US$4,540).

The suspect was taken into custody around 10:00am this morning by the Thinadhoo police station following intelligence information indicating that he was peddling drugs.

The drugs were found in the suspect’s room, which was raided by police with a search warrant.


Eight arrested in drug bust with more than 300k in cash

Police arrested eight Maldivians with illegal narcotics and more than MVR140,000 (US$9,000) and US$11,000 in cash from a residence in Malé yesterday.

In addition to the drugs and cash seized after searching Maafanu Zillion with a court warrant, police discovered a caged slow loris. The importation and sale of the endangered primate species is illegal in the country.

The house was searched based on information of a “wide drug network” obtained by police drug intelligence.

Yesterday’s raid followed a similar operation earlier in the month, in which a 23-year-old suspected of supplying illegal drugs was arrested – also in Maafanu ward. Official statistics reveal drug-related offences reported to police had risen by 84 percent between 2012 and 2013.

The suspects taken into custody yesterday included three men aged 20, 24 and 53 as well as three women aged 19, 35 and 47.

The Criminal Court today extended the remand detention of the 20-year-old man and 35-year-old woman to 15 days and granted a three-day extension for the remaining four suspects.

Police also found a liquor bottle and a handcuff from the adjoining residence, Maafanu Zefiah, and took two men aged 21 and 28 into custody.

According to the police Drug Enforcement Department (DED), the street value of the drugs seized from Maafanu Zillion was more than MVR200,000 (US$12,970).

The drugs were found in five small film canisters and a large rubber packet.

Among other items confiscated from M. Zillion – located near the Maafanu police station – included four sex toys, empty bottles of alcohol, walkie talkies of the Kenwood brand used at construction sites, 39 cans of beer and equipment used for packing drugs.

The search operation conducted jointly by the DED, drug intelligence department and the Specialist Operations (SO) command concluded at 5:30pm on Monday.

The case is currently investigation by the DED and the Criminal Investigation Department.

Police further revealed that the 47-year-old woman had previously been convicted for drug trafficking and sentenced to 25 years in prison. She was however transferred to house arrest on December 6, 2008 due to poor health.

Local daily Haveeru reported today that the woman was convicted in late 2007 for assisting her son – who was in grade nine at the time – to buy and sell drugs.

The conviction was upheld by the High Court in 2012 following an appeal on the grounds that the woman suffered from a mental illness.

During an interview with Minivan News this month, Home Minister Umar Naseer said that the main target of his ministry for the next five years would be to curb drug-related crimes.

Naseer said that he intended to give high priority to enhancing the customs services in order to stop illegal drugs and other contraband from being smuggled in to the country. He also said that the police intelligence department was being expanded.

Speaking about reducing drug-related crimes, Naseer said that he would focus more on major drug dealers, rather than those further down the criminal hierarchy.

The home minister also pledged to find ways to enforce Maldivian law on drug lords living overseas who were allegedly involved in the drug trafficking in the Maldives.


Customs seize MVR 10 million worth of drugs hidden in mattresses

Customs officials last night seized 11.6 kilograms of illegal narcotics which they claim has an estimated street value of more than MVR 10 million (US$650,000).

The shipment of drugs was hidden inside foam mattresses imported from India.

Customs Superintendent Abdulla Shareef said in a press conference today that customs intelligence had received information about the shipment two months ago, and had been preparing for the operation for a long time.

The drugs were smuggled into the country on a cargo boat that set out from India on June 19, according to Shareef.

Shareef told the press that customs officials searched the boat at 10:00pm while it was docked in the Male’ commercial harbour, and discovered 14 packets hidden inside seven mattresses.

Two Maldivians have been arrested in connection with the case.

According to Shareef, the packets included one kilogram of heroin and 10.6 kilograms of hash oil.

He said the drugs seized were handed to police early this morning.

Police spokesperson Ismail Ali told Minivan News police could not give any details on the case and said they would only confirm the shipment had been handed over.


Police make drug busts in Noonu, Raa Atolls

Police have arrested two men in possession of illegal narcotics from Noonu and Raa Atolls based on intelligence information.

On October 21, a 28 year-old was taken into custody from Noonu Lhohi based on intelligence information received by the Noonu Manadhoo Police Station. The suspect was arrested at the harbour after he alighted from a boat that arrived from Lhaviyani atoll.

When the suspected was searched, police discovered five packets of heroin and 16 packets of hash oil under the soles of his sandals.

Meanwhile, a 20 year-old was arrested from Raa Ungoofaru yesterday with three packets of hash oil based on a tip-off to the Ungoofaru Police Station.

The suspect had arrived in Ungoofaru from Madduvari on the Raa Atoll south ferry and was about to take the north ferry from Ungoofaru when he was taken into custody.

The cases are being investigated by the Noonu and Raa Atoll Police Stations.