Thailand has seized nearly $1 billion worth of ketamine in hundreds of sacks weighing 11.5 tons in a record-shattering bust, authorities said.
Pictures of the haul posted Thursday evening showed the packages stacked on top of each other in a warehouse about two hours east of the capital Bangkok following a tip from Taiwanese anti-narcotics authorities.
Southeast Asia is a known hotspot for the production and trade of methamphetamine. But a May 2020 report by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said the seizures of the recreational drug ketamine have surged in East and Southeast Asia since 2015.
Thai Justice Minister Somsak Thepsutin told reporters that the shipment was sent to Thailand by boat. Authorities believe the drugs went through the hilly Golden Triangle region covering Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, the Bangkok Post reported. The Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) in Thailand said it was investigating the origin.
"Thai authorities report of 11.5 tons of ketamine seized yesterday exceeds the Asia total of last year," the UNODC's Jeremy Douglas told VICE News. "We happened to be with the Thai ONCB Secretary General and his team when the operation took place and were asked to go to the scene. Hard to say what a single seizure or operation indicates, but it certainly looks like the regional synthetic drug market may still be expanding and diversifying, both supply and demand significantly underestimated."
Ketamine is not traditionally popular in Thailand and the shipment was believed to be destined for Japan, Korea or even Europe. A Thai police spokesman did not respond to requests for comment from VICE News about the seizure.
In recent years Thailand has made multiple big drug busts, and they have continued during the coronavirus.
In October, Thai police revealed information about eight major recent drug busts that yielded 1,470 kilos (3,240 pounds) of crystal meth and 431 kilos (950 pounds) of heroin among others, resulting in the arrest of 24 suspects.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the packages as containing pills. The substance was in fact in powder form.