A landmark report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime recently estimated that the methamphetamine market throughout southeast Asia, east Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Bangladesh is currently worth anywhere between US$30.3 billion and US$61.4 billion a year. Australia and New Zealand alone represent $11.1 billion of that, due in no small part to the extortionate prices of drugs in those countries. And according to the UN study, an increasing number of Australian outlaw motorcycle gangs are expanding into the south-east Asian region to capitalise on the booming market, The Guardian reports.
The study, released last week, details the “global reach” of drug exports from countries such as Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, and the ways that criminal syndicates are trafficking “unfathomable quantities” of “high-profit” meth from those countries into Australia and New Zealand. It also specifically notes that “recently, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) from Australia and New Zealand have established a number of chapters in southeast Asia and are involved in drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering, and other crimes."
"They are expanding their presence in east and south-east Asia," the report claims, "to organise the trafficking of illicit drugs, in particular methamphetamine and related precursor chemicals.”
The authors point to an incident in June 2017 when Australian authorities seized more than 1.4 tons of ephedrine from China’s Guangdong province and arrested 14 people, including members of the Rebels motorcycle gang. Another incident in Melbourne in April 2017 saw three men associated with an outlaw motorcycle gang being arrested with 119 kilograms of crystal meth that had been trafficked from Malaysia.
While major criminal groups from China, Hong Kong, and Thailand are the “dominant players” in southeast Asia’s production and movement of methamphetamine, outlaw motorcycle gangs from Australia and New Zealand are attempting “to gain a foothold in the region”, according to the study. This expansion is likely motivated, in part, by the lucrative prospects of the market—specifically the “low price per kilogram and increased quantities of methamphetamine manufactured…in the region” and the “disproportionately” high wholesale and retail prices for the drug in Australia and New Zealand.
The report also suggests, however, that the shift is partly a result of “focused law enforcement efforts against them at home.” As Australian and New Zealander outlaw motorcycle gangs face increasing clampdowns from local authorities, many of them appear to be taking their operations across the Timor Sea and into Asian countries where the product is cheaper and the loopholes larger.
Jeremy Douglas, the UN regional representative for south-east Asia and the Pacific, suggests that countries around the region need to take a unified approach in order to tackle the problem of transnational crime and drug trafficking in southeast Asia.
"When it comes to crystal meth and the expanding market in Australia and south-east Asia, it is really obvious that there needs to be a stronger focus on prevention, treatment, and minimising harms," he told Fairfax. "While Australia has invested a lot in demand reduction efforts domestically, the region has not, which is part of the problem. The response is disjointed and unbalanced, which only benefits organised crime."
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This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.