The United Arab Emirates foiled an attempt to smuggle 13 tonnes of the addictive amphetamine captagon – worth more than $1 billion – hidden in a shipment of doors and decorative building panels, the country’s Ministry of Interior said in a statement on Thursday.
The Dubai Police said it arrested six people who were part of an “international criminal cartel,” in what it said was “one of the largest smuggling operations of captagon tablets in the world.”
The pills were hidden using “innovative smuggling methods,” concealed within 432 pieces of high-end furniture panels and 651 professionally crafted doors made from iron and wood, the interior ministry said, adding that extracting the tablets took “days.”
The UAE “stands as an impenetrable fortress against any threat aimed at jeopardizing the security and well-being of the Emirati society,” Interior Minister Sheikh Saif bin Zayed Al Nahyan said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday.
A surveillance video shared by the interior ministry on Thursday shows the suspects attempting to bring the captagon tablets through Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port.
UAE authorities have seized hundreds of thousands of captagon pills since 2019. In June of this year, the Abu Dhabi Customs said it had seized nearly 175,000 pills between the start of 2019 and May this year.
Captagon was originally the brand name for a medicinal product containing the synthetic stimulant fenethylline. Though it is no longer produced legally, counterfeit drugs carrying the captagon name are regularly seized in the Middle East, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
Experts say the vast majority of global captagon production occurs in Syria, with the Gulf region being its primary destination.
The growth of the industry has raised alarms in the international community. Last year, the US introduced the 2022 US Captagon Act, which linked the trade to the Syrian regime and called it a “transnational security threat.”