METH 2.0 ALERT

Herald Sun - - FRONT PAGE - SARAH BLAKE

A NEW strain of more dan­ger­ous ice is set to swamp Aus­tralia from the jun­gle labs of Mex­ico’s fear­some Si­naloa drug cartel.

The Her­ald Sun has vis­ited two filthy meth fac­to­ries un­cov­ered in the cartel’s heart­land that were pro­duc­ing 30 tonnes of the drug a month. Po­lice warn the new gen­er­a­tion of metham­phetamine will flood the mar­ket here. La­belled “Meth 2.0” by US au­thor­i­ties, the Si­naloa ice is made by swap­ping hard-to-get pseu­doephedrin­e for cheap and read­ily avail­able Chi­ne­se­made chem­i­cal pre­cur­sors.

Sky-high prof­its are driv­ing a new wave of vi­o­lence in the re­gion, in­clud­ing last week’s mur­ders of nine Amer­i­can cit­i­zens — six chil­dren and their moth­ers — and an armed takeover of Cu­li­a­can city last month, forc­ing the re­lease of gang boss Ovidio Guz­man, son of jailed king­pin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guz­man.

“We have a prob­lem with metham­phetamine com­ing out of Mex­ico,” said De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Con­rad Jensen, the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice’s se­nior of­fi­cer for Latin Amer­ica, based in Mex­ico City. “It’s cer­tainly on a su­per-size scale.”

The Mex­i­can labs are pro­duc­ing about a third of Aus­tralia’s ice, says the AFP, which worked with US au­thor­i­ties to seize an Aus­trali­abound world record 1.7 tonnes — worth $1.3 bil­lion — in Los An­ge­les in Jan­uary. In Au­gust, 755kg of ice was seized in Mel­bourne, packed in frozen cow hides. A Mex­i­can na­tional has been charged.

“The num­ber of seizures don’t re­flect the true scale of the story, rather the size of the in­di­vid­ual seizures,” Supt Jensen said.

“Where we used to see seizures of 50 to 100kg just a few years back, now they are well into the hun­dreds of ki­los or even tonnes.”

The Her­ald Sun was the first Aus­tralian news out­let to visit the meth fac­to­ries, spend­ing four days with the Si­naloa state po­lice last month as it un­veiled two labs that were pro­duc­ing 30 tonnes a month of ice be­tween them.

Po­lice deputy chief Ma­jor Car­los Leyva said the cartel’s ice pro­duc­tion was boom­ing and had re­placed mar­i­juana and Colom­bian co­caine as its main drug prod­uct.

His team raided at least 49 labs this year, com­pared to just nine in 2018. He said he didn’t have enough of­fi­cers to shut down new fac­to­ries.

“It is a boom­ing busi­ness and their out­put is get­ting big­ger all the time,” Ma­jor Leyva said.

He said de­spite the raids, po­lice had not made a sin­gle ar­rest at the jun­gle labs in two years, with the Si­naloa cartel’s stran­gle­hold on the state so firm its armies of in­for­mants had warned gang mem­bers work­ing there be­fore he or his Marines and army coun­ter­parts could get them.

Ma­jor Leyva in­sisted the raids were worth­while and hurt the cartel, af­ter they dis­posed of the drugs they found and dis­rupted their busi­ness.

Supt Jensen said Mex­i­can ice was con­sid­ered pre­mium qual­ity by users, pro­duced us­ing a method dubbed P2P.

“The pre-pre­cur­sor chem­i­cals used to pro­duce P2P in Mex­ico are be­ing brought in from Asia and other places,” he said. “Gone are the days of a back­yard set up some­where, and it’s now a lab­stan­dard pro­duc­tion.

“P2P is about go­ing to the next level in terms of the am­phet­a­mine chem­istry.

“You can’t com­pare this to any­thing we’ve seen in Aus­tralia.”

US au­thor­i­ties are so con­cerned by the new gen­er­a­tion of meth they re­cently warned it was on track to kill more Amer­i­cans than the opi­oid cri­sis, with a re­cent spike in Mex­i­can-pro­duced ice deaths out­pac­ing the early years of the opi­oid epi­demic.

De­mand has driven Aus­tralian drug users to pay among the world’s high­est prices for ice, with a street value of $750 a gram com­pared to an av­er­age $53 a gram in the US, draw­ing at­ten­tion from the car­tels.

“The rea­son the Aus­tralian price is so high … is due to de­mand in Aus­tralia and sup­ply fac­tors, the price our drug users are will­ing to pay, dis­tance and it is harder to get the drugs through our bor­ders,” said Supt Jensen. “We are a lu­cra­tive mar­ket and we’re on the radar of the or­gan­ised crime groups.

The Si­naloa ice moves from ports on the Mex­i­can and US west coast, through Asia and then handed to lo­cal con­tacts, usu­ally bikies and Asian gangs but in­creas­ingly Mex­i­can na­tion­als.

Although “El Chapo” Guz­man is jailed in the US, the dan­ger­ous na­ture of his crim­i­nal net­work was made clear ear­lier this month when nine Mex­i­can army mem­bers were traded for the free­dom of his son Ovidio af­ter he was briefly ar­rested in Cu­li­a­can.

Thir­teen peo­ple died in 10 hours of gun­fights through the state cap­i­tal and the rolling over of the Mex­i­can Pres­i­dent to re­lease Ovidio Guz­man was de­scribed by se­cu­rity ex­perts as “a new blue­print for or­gan­ised crime”.

Pic­tures: NATHAN ED­WARDS

Mex­i­can po­lice (right) and marines (be­low left) at a metham­phetamine lab (be­low right) in the Mex­i­can jun­gle near the city of Cu­li­a­can.

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