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Malaysia seizes US$18 mil. in drugs from Indian shipment

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- Malaysian custom authorities have seized 58 million ringgit (US$18 million) worth of illegal drugs from a shipping container from India in the country's biggest drugs bust in a decade, officials said Monday.

Officials found just under 3 million nimetazepam pills stuffed in black plastic bags hidden among sacks of chewing tobacco and incense sticks, said Matrang Suhaili, custom's deputy director-general of enforcement. The sedative, which is usually prescribed for insomnia or sleep disorders, is sometimes used to reduce the effect of methamphetamine and other stimulants. It is illegal in Malaysia.

The container landed in Hong Kong and was then loaded to another ship that arrived in Malaysia's Port Klang on June 23, Matrang said. Customs officials, working on a tip-off, raided the container seven days later and discovered the pills.

Four Malaysians, including a woman, and a Bangladeshi man have been detained for investigations, he said.

“This is the biggest drug seizure in the last 10 years. We are in the process of tightening our laws to give us more power to audit ships and monitor the movement of cargo. We will also have advance information on ships 24 hours before they land at our ports,” Matrang told The Associated Press.

Currently, customs officials only obtain ship documents after a vessel has landed. Matrang said he hoped the new laws could be enforced by late this year or early next year.

Malaysian officials are concerned that the country is becoming an easy transshipment hub for illegal cargo such as drugs or elephant tusks.

Excluding the latest haul, customs officials had made 67 drugs busts at the country's ports and airports this year, confiscating drugs worth 126.4 million ringgit (US$40 million) and putting 51 people on death row, Matrang said.

The death penalty is mandatory for drug trafficking in Malaysia. Last year, customs officials seized 184 million ringgit (US$58 million) worth of drugs.

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