NEW YORK – The United States on Wednesday announced charges against five suspects extradited from Thailand for allegedly smuggling methamphetamine’s from North Korea, which prosecutors said has become a growing production hub.
Federal prosecutors said Thai authorities arrested the five in September and sent them to New York on Tuesday over an ill-fated bid to send 100 kg (220 lbs) of North Korean-produced meth by boat to the United States.
The suspects included two British citizens, one Chinese, one Filipino and one purported leader of a Thai motorcycle gang whose nationality was not specified. They face life in prison if convicted.
U.S. authorities said that cash-strapped North Korea, which is under stringent international sanctions over its nuclear and other military programs, had emerged as a center for production of the stimulant.
“This investigation continued to highlight the emergence of North Korea as a significant source of methamphetamine in the global drug trade,” Michele Leonhart, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said in a statement.
Prosecutors said that the group, who used a base in the Philippines, bought 100 kg and planned to package it in tea leaves and send it on a ship to the United States.
An armed motorcycle gang tried to guard the shipment but Thai authorities broke up the shipment and arrested the five on Sept. 25, according to U.S. prosecutors for the southern district of New York.
Meth, often associated with the rural poor in the United States, has seen a boom in Asia both with the young party set as well as laborers and farmers.
Last year 227 million methamphetamine pills were seized in East and Southeast Asia, a 59 percent rise from a year before, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Myanmar is also considered a major source, with some ethnic rebel groups believed to use meth profits to fund their long-running insurgencies.