Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

China’s role in our problems with P

December 8th, 2009

Media coverage of the battle against P has tended to focus on the role of Maori gangs in the P trade. Yet most of the intercepts of the pseudoephedrine precursor to P that were being touted by John Key at his press conference yesterday originated from China – which suggests that Chinese criminal gangs may be at the heart of our P problem. Key though, didn’t seem to know either way. When I asked him whether the intercept figures indicated Chinese criminal gangs were involved in our P trade he replied that he didn’t know, but that such an implication could reasonably be drawn. Nor did he know whether this was being reflected in the 15 arrests related to the intercepts he had just cited.

Given that the government’s Plan on Methamphetamine is being run out of Key’s office, this apparent ignorance of the structure of the trade we trying to combat seems astonishing – and can only fuel suspicion that the campaign against P is largely a PR exercise. What we were told yesterday was that Customs had intercepted 230kg of the P precursor pseudoephedrine during the period since October, compared to only 67kgs during the comparable period last year. The seizures, we were told ,were not in large amounts but – cumulatively – they could produce P with an estimated street value of $84 million.

The role of China in the world’s crystal meth (aka P) trade is well documented. Only a week ago, Chinese authorities carried out the biggest drug bust in the country’s history. The busts were extensive, were gang related, and shaded over from ephedrine for the purposes of P production, to its use in Chinese traditional herbal medecines. Eg :

“This is a huge illegal drug case that took six months to investigate, was spread out over 21 provinces and regions and included five gangs with over 85 people suspected to be involved,” the Legal Daily said.

The case came to light in April after drug authorities discovered large shipments of ephedrine, a drug commonly used in flu, cough and asthma medicine, in Yibin city in Sichuan province, the paper said. Ephedrine is a key ingredient in methamphetimines. Chinese drug authorities last year began tracking large purchases of ephedrine, which is also a common ingredient in many traditional Chinese herbal medicines, reports said.

Presumably, that same pattern is evident here, too. If the intercepts in China were in small amounts, were they seizures from Chinese travellers bringing in ephedrine for medicinal purposes, or for purposes of criminal gain? We have had at least one major case involving Chinese gangs involvement in the P trade – the so called Operation Manu case in 2007. This involved an Asian crime syndicate led from overseas, which was using local Chinese students as couriers.

The international dimension of our P trade has also been underlined recently by the arrest at Auckland airport of 4 Japanese importing a $4 million consignment of P – not the precursors, but the drug itself – in the lining of their suitcases. Subsequently, two Iranians were also arrested as part of this operation.

It could well be that publicity about the Chinese connection could endanger our tertiary education trade with China – which has already declined by 19% over 2007-08. Yet given its global prominence in producing the ingredients, we need to know a great deal more about the supply lines for the social menace from China, into New Zealand. What links if any, exist between the Chinese Triads importing the precursors and the local gangs making and distributing the final product? Can Customs distinguish between the seizures of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine destined for the P labs, from that seized from elderly Chinese using such ingredients as part of traditional herbal treatments?

Plainly, herbal medicines are not the prime area of concern. in 2007, China’s export traders were estimated to be extracting US$13 million worth of ephedrine from 30,000 tonnes of ephedra annually, 10 times the amount that is used in traditional Chinese medicine. The international dimension of the P trade – and the globalisation of the activities of local biker gangs – suggest that the success or otherwise of this campaign will have to be measured in years or decades, rather than in a couple of months worth of seizures.


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    1. 9 Responses to “China’s role in our problems with P”

    2. By Joe Blow on Dec 8, 2009 | Reply

      You can’t forget little old Taiwan. There was a case that involved a bust of a Taiwanese drug ring which uncovered $985,025 in cash along with psuedoephedrine in 2006 (R v Yeh [2007] NZCA 580 and R v Hsu [2008] NZCA 468). They appeared to be more than just smuggling it in. In fact they appeared to be also involved in the supply end here in New Zealand. It’s huge and if anything getting bigger. Possibly the increase in the amount discovered is just a reflection of more coming in through customs rather than an increase in the amount actually being detected by customs…

    3. By bubbles on Dec 11, 2009 | Reply

      Demand will be supplied. How did demand become so high?

      The most popular illegal drug is cannabis. Organisations like DARE will say that it is a gateway drug that leads to harder drugs like “P”, that is why it must remain illegal. A little over ten years ago a senior Police commander said in an interview with the Evening Post that with the education and policing policies they had in place he thought “NZ could be drug free in ten years”.

      Proponents of decriminalisation say that giving control of this most popular drug to gangs, allows those gangs to introduce much larger numbers to harder and more profitable drugs, than would otherwise be the case.

      So which argument turned out to be true?

    4. By Bamm Bamm on Dec 12, 2009 | Reply

      Possession of any illegal drug should carry an immediate death sentence.
      As New Zealands immigrant muslim population crows, so will intolerance for present New Zealanders silly beliefs.

    5. By Dave on Dec 12, 2009 | Reply

      The more Key reveals of himself as a leader, the less of a leader he seems. Gordon hits the nail on the head with: “this apparent ignorance of the structure of the trade we trying to combat seems astonishing – and can only fuel suspicion that the campaign against P is largely a PR exercise”.

      Or maybe I’m just dark that he’s taken away the only drugs that can make you feel semi-human when you have the flu.

    6. By Joe Blow on Dec 13, 2009 | Reply

      I must admit the only way I ever went to work with the bot was on coldral and the best description of me at the time was = semi-human.

      Yeah Key has got some kind of semi-presidential distance going on with his PR campaign. I don’t think they planned it that way. It just happened. Still the war on P just isn’t suiting him (as he is a simple accountant) and it is hardly the be all and end all of his PR spin.

      Give me back my coldral you opportunist!

    7. By Dave on Dec 15, 2009 | Reply

      Bamm Bamm, you need to chill the f**k out you freakin psycho

    8. By Joe Blow on Dec 16, 2009 | Reply

      And give Dave back his coldral too! Quick!

      Coldral, coldral, coldral!

    9. By DeepRed on Dec 16, 2009 | Reply

      Could it be that they don’t want to lose the ‘model minority’ vote? And Peter Low has been strangely silent on the whole affair. Maybe he only pops up when the offender fails the brown paper bag test?

    10. By Importing From China on Dec 23, 2009 | Reply

      Indeed! China has now taken the place of Japan as a major importer of raw materials and processes these in volume. This is how they are able to reduce costs. In order to compete, the rest of the world must find a way to do things better with less cost and environmentally safe!

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