INTERNATIONAL DRUG TRAFFICKERS USING SAIPAN AS TRANSSHIPMENT POINT

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SAIPAN, Northern Mariana Islands (June 16, 1999 - PACNEWS)---The Government of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI) has received reports of international drug traffickers using the capital, Saipan, as a transshipment point for controlled substances, particularly crystal methamphetamine or "ice," Governor Pedro Tenorio disclosed on Wednesday. The Governor said $US 2.5 million worth of amphetamine confiscated by the Division of Customs Services last year validates claims that Saipan is a transshipment point for illegal drugs.

Tenorio said the Customs Division and concerned federal agencies have already begun taking aggressive monitoring efforts to curb the problem.

The Governor said reports claim Saipan is used as an entry point for illegal drugs smuggled into Hawai'i, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia and other areas in the Pacific and the U.S. by international drug syndicates from Hong Kong, Japan and Russia.

He added that the Government has been monitoring the activities of suspicious individuals, especially those coming from high drug-risk countries.

He did not disclose the names of the countries.

"The Customs and the Federal Government are working closely to observe the activities of those people.

"Customs is very strict in monitoring those people who are known as drug users, as well as the pattern of people who are coming in," he said.

Tenorio said the task force on drug enforcement in the CNMI has been instructed to look at the problem closely.

"We don't like to see Saipan as a transshipment point for the trafficking of illegal drugs to other places. Our customs policies are not necessarily lenient. We are doing everything to address this concern," he said.

In 1998, a Department of Finance report said alert officers of the customs division confiscated over 2.7 kilograms of amphetamine at Saipan International Airport. The drug sells at $US 800 a gram on the streets.

The agency also reported an unusually high number of drug-related arrests at Saipan International Airport last year.

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