June 13, 2024

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A recent report highlights the pivotal role played by the EU in the shipment of Captagon pills from the Middle East to the Gulf region.

Europe has become a pivotal transshipment point for the Syrian-made amphetamine known as Captagon as it moves from the Middle East to the Gulf region, a report has found.

The report published by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and the German Federal Criminal Police Office on Wednesday noted that substantial quantities of Captagon seized within the European Union (EU) were intended for rerouting to the Gulf, primarily Saudi Arabia.

Syria is by far the world’s largest producer of the addictive amphetamine-type stimulant pill, which is being smuggled to countries across the region.

Despite being outlawed across the globe after it was first produced in the 1960s in Germany, Captagon is feeding party scenes in the Middle East. For years, it has reportedly provided a crucial financial lifeline to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who became increasingly isolated after his regime’s actions during the civil war in Syria that began more than a decade ago.

According to the report, trafficking operations include direct rerouting of shipments or sending deliveries onwards after repackaging within the EU.

Some Syrian and Lebanese nationals residing in EU member states have been frequently implicated in these operations.

The report also claimed that Lebanese and Syrian armed groups linked to the Syrian government play a role in the Captagon trade, with financial benefits accruing to the al-Assad regime.

Despite the substantial quantities of Captagon transiting through the EU, member states have not reported significant domestic use of the drug.

In addition to Captagon tablets being trafficked into the EU, the report says some of the tablets are produced within Europe, mostly in the Netherlands.

Dutch police have uncovered large production sites that yield Captagon tablets from amphetamine powder.

Saudi custom officer opens imported pomegranates, as customs foiled an attempt to smuggle over 5 million Captagon pills in 2021 [File photo: Saudi Press Agency/AP]
A Saudi customs officer opens imported pomegranates, as customs foils an attempt to smuggle more than five million Captagon pills in 2021 [File: Saudi Press Agency/AP]

Growing seizures

The report notes a consistent increase in Captagon tablet seizures in the EU since 2018.

EU member states collectively reported seizing 127 million tablets and 1,773kg (2 tonnes) of the drug during the data collection period for this report. The largest single seizure of 84 million tablets was in Salerno, Italy in 2020.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reported confiscating a staggering 73 tonnes of amphetamine in 2021, compared to just 18 tonnes in 2016.

The report, which gathered information from seven EU member states, underscored an urgent need for a coordinated response to stem the trade and transit of Captagon through the EU.

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