Four Maldivians and three Sri Lankans have been arrested on charges of drug trafficking with the Sri Lankan police linking the suspects to an international drug smuggling network.
According to Sri Lankan media, a Maldivian couple was arrested on Saturday outside the Katunayaka airport with 3kg of heroin in their luggage. After interrogating the couple, Sri Lankan police arrested two other Maldivians and three Sri Lankans, including the alleged Sri Lankan ringleader.
ASP Ruwan Gunasekara, spokesperson of the Sri Lankan police, said the suspects are part of a tri-national drug ring operating between Maldives, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
“Our department has been sharing information with the Maldivian authorities and we have been working together to completely destabilise the Maldives-Lanka drug network. We have been successful in arresting a number of Sri Lankans and Maldivians involved in this network,” he was quoted as saying.
The country of origin for the drugs remains unclear. The four Maldivians may face life in prison or the death penalty under Sri Lankan laws on drug trafficking.
Maldivian police refused to divulge any information about the four locals in Sri Lankan police custody, saying they are suspects in an ongoing investigation by the Sri Lankan police.
Officials from the foreign ministry were unable to comment on the case at the time of publication while the phone number for the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo was disconnected.
According to a 2012 UN report, there are 7,496 drug addicts in the Maldives. However, critics say the real figure is likely to be much higher as the country’s entrenched drug problem has grown to endemic proportions during the past three decades.
Last November, local media reported that a man suspected of smuggling 4kg of heroin to Villingili in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll was released by the island’s magistrate court with no option for appeal as a southern branch of the High Court had not been established at the time.
In October 2014, two men who had smuggled about a kilo of drugs were released by the police because the criminal court was closed when the maximum 24 hour detention period expired.
The largest drug bust in recent history involved 24kg of heroin smuggled into the Maldives on an Iranian boat in March 2014. Three Maldivians arrested in connection with the drug haul, including a police officer, were later released.
Meanwhile, the Maldives Police Service acknowledged today a culture of suspected criminals escaping justice due to legal loopholes and flaws in the criminal justice system.
According to police media, senior officers held a meeting with officials from the Prosecutor General’s office today to discuss the issue.
The police officers discussed ways to strengthen existing laws and regulations. While the police noted the absence of legislation as a factor, the ruling coalition controls a comfortable majority in parliament.
The latest drug bust involving Maldivians comes in the wake of the arrest of alleged Sri Lankan drug “kingpin” Wasantha Mendis in Thailand. He is now in the custody of the Sri Lankan police narcotics bureau.
According to ASP Gunasekera, Mendis is the chief suspect of a large-scale drug racket operating in the southern Sri Lanka.
Maldivians have previously been linked with regional and international drug networks with Indian media last year linking former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb – who is now on trial on charges of terrorism and corruption – to an infamous Sri Lankan parliamentarian named Mr Duminda Silva who was allegedly involved in an “international drug racket.”
Mr Silva is reportedly a close associate of his countrymen ‘Heroin King’ Wele Suda, who was arrested in Pakistan last year and later sentenced to death in Sri Lanka.
The lawmaker was suspected of utilising his powers in monitoring the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence to protect members of Wele Suda’s network.