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Dubai police discover massive drug haul disguised in shipment of lemons

More than one million Captagon pills hidden inside fruit decoys were seized after a tip-off
Bags of Captagon
A picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on November 30, 2021 shows bags containing the banned stimulant captagon seized by authorities on a shipment destined to Saudi Arabia (AFP)

Dubai police on Thursday announced that they had thwarted an attempt to smuggle nearly $16 million-worth of drugs into the country, hidden in a shipment of lemons. 

Authorities said the confiscation of 1,160,500 Captagon pills was made after they received a tip that an "international drug syndicate" was bringing the shipment of drugs, buried in boxes of lemons, into the Gulf sheikhdom from an undisclosed Arab country.

The four suspects, Arab men of undisclosed nationality, were monitored by the police as they transferred the shipment from Dubai Port to a refrigerated lorry at a second location.

Major-General Khalil Ibrahim al-Mansouri, assistant commander-in-chief for criminal investigation affairs, said police coordinated with customs officials to confirm that the drugs were hidden inside the shipment of lemons before making the arrests.

Mansouri said police had been "closely monitoring" one of suspects as he received the shipment and drove it to the undisclosed location, leading them to the three other suspects.

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The shipment contained 3,840 boxes of lemons, of which 66 were filled with fake lemons with the drugs concealed inside.

One suspect was arrested after rearranging the decoys inside the container, while another was arrested while waiting outside. A second team of officers arrested the third and fourth suspects.

The use of Captagon, an addictive amphetamine, has flourished in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, where it is illegally used as a recreational drug.

The drug is mostly produced in Lebanon and Syria and then trafficked throughout the region.

The trade has particularly flourished in Syria against the backdrop of the country's civil war and economic collapse.

According to an EU-funded report by the Centre for Operational Analysis and Research, "Captagon exports from Syria reached a market value of at least $3.46bn" in 2020.

In July last year, Italy seized a record 14-tonne haul of the drug - or 84m pills - that had arrived from Syria.