BEIRUT: Customs agents at the Port of Beirut have foiled an attempt to smuggle “a complete laboratory for the production of drugs into Lebanon,” acting director of Customs Shafiq Merhi said Wednesday.
Speaking at a news conference in a Beirut Port warehouse, Merhi described how agents working with the Customs General Directorate’s anti-drug division discovered the equipment in a shipping container that had arrived in Beirut from China 10 days earlier.
Agents became suspicious “that there were prohibited goods inside the container, so they proceeded to unpack its contents and found segments and parts for motorbikes,” Merhi said.
But on closer inspection, Customs officers saw that a number of undeclared items had also been hidden behind the bike parts, including glass tubes, a centrifuge, measuring equipment and filters.
The confiscated equipment, which was on display under armed guard at the conference, bore instructions and markings in Chinese.
Officers found a plastic container labeled in English “engine oil,” filled with chemicals used to manufacture drugs, as well as several bags of sodium hydroxide, a chemical compound sometimes used in the purification of heroin.
In the same container, Customs agents found equipment used to manufacture Captagon, a stimulant with amphetamine-like effects, which is banned in Lebanon.
The haul was accompanied by an illustrated manual detailing in Chinese how to assemble and use the machinery, “which together forms a comprehensive laboratory to produce the components of heroin and opium, and the active ingredients of cocaine,” Merhi said.
Although investigations into the seizure are ongoing, five people have already been arrested in connection with the incident, and authorities are currently seeking three more believed to be linked to the shipment.
Merhi stressed that Customs agents regularly carry out such operations away from the eyes of the media.
“We have made numerous seizures and investigate them every day, and we do not cover them in the media.”
However, Customs officials have had a number of recent high-profile successes against drug smuggling. In August, officers at Rafik Hariri International Airport detained two Australians who were trying to smuggle cocaine out of the country, and Beirut Port agents foiled an attempt to ship 8 kilograms of heroin to Belgium.
Merhi vowed that the department would remain alert to other attempts to bring contraband into Lebanon through its international borders.
“Despite the difficult circumstances we are living in, we promise to remain on guard and vigilant in order to collect revenues for the treasury at full capacity, and to foil any smuggling attempts.”