The Mex­i­can drug labs feed­ing Aussie trade

Mercury (Hobart) - - NEWS - SARAH BLAKE

EACH day they churn out tonnes of a new strain of more pure and deadly “ice”, which is in­creas­ingly tar­get­ing Aus­tralians. These are the jun­gle labs of Mex­ico’s fear­some drug car­tels.

Aus­tralian po­lice have warned of a new gen­er­a­tion of metham­phetamine flood­ing the lo­cal mar­ket as News Corp Aus­tralia trav­elled into the heart­land of the Si­naloa cartel.

La­belled “meth 2.0” by US au­thor­i­ties, the Si­naloa ice is made by swap­ping hard-to­get pseu­doephedrin­e for cheap and read­ily avail­able Chi­nese-made chem­i­cal pre­cur­sors. The sky-high prof­its are driv­ing a new wave of cartel vi­o­lence in the re­gion, in­clud­ing last week’s mur­ders of nine US cit­i­zens – six chil­dren and their moth­ers – as well as an armed takeover of Cu­li­a­can last month that forced the re­lease of gang boss Ovidio Guz­man, the son of jailed king­pin El Chapo.

“We have a prob­lem with metham­phetamine com­ing out of Mex­ico,” says Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice De­tec­tive Su­per­in­ten­dent Con­rad Jensen, se­nior of­fi­cer for Latin Amer­ica for the Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice, who is based in Mex­ico City.

“It’s cer­tainly on a su­per­size scale.”

News Corp Aus­tralia was the first Aus­tralian me­dia to visit the meth fac­to­ries on a four-day em­bed with the Si­naloa State Po­lice last month. It un­veiled two re­cently seized labs that pro­duced 30 tonnes of ice a month.

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

His team has raided at least 49 labs this year, com­pared to just nine in 2018, and he says he doesn’t have enough of­fi­cers to shut down new fac­to­ries as they learn of them.

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

He also said that de­spite the raids, his of­fi­cers had not made a sin­gle ar­rest at the jun­gle labs in two years, with the Si­naloa cartel’s stran­gle­hold on the city so firm that its armies of in­for­mants had warned crim­i­nal gang mem­bers work­ing there be­fore he or his Marine and Army coun­ter­parts could take them down.

Ma­jor Leyva in­sisted the raids were worth­while and im­pact­ing the cartel, given they dis­posed of all the drugs they found and dis­rupted their busi­ness.

Supt Jensen said the Mex­i­can ice was con­sid­ered pre­mium qual­ity by users, and was pro­duced us­ing a new 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 lab-stan­dard pro­duc­tion.

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

”That’s what they’re get­ting and they’re known for that in­ter­na­tion­ally.

“The metham­phetamine be­ing pro­duced in Mex­ico is gen­er­ally of a higher qual­ity.

“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.

Boom­ing 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 grow­ing fo­cus 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, who works closely with US and Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties.

“We are a lu­cra­tive mar­ket and we’re cer­tainly on the radar of the or­gan­ised crime groups, the car­tels here in Mex­ico.”

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

Although Si­naloa cartel king­pin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guz­man is jailed in the US, just how dan­ger­ous the crim­i­nal net­work he founded re­mains was made clear this month, when nine Mex­i­can army mem­bers were traded for the free­dom of Ovidio Guz­man, his son, af­ter he was briefly ar­rested in Cu­li­a­can.

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

“The num­ber of seizures don’t re­flect the true scale of the story,” 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.”

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