Captagon Ring in Bekaa: Drug Sheikhs on the Loose
By: Radwan Mortada
Published Friday, June 8, 2012
Lebanese authorities have busted a Captagon producing and dealing operation. The case’s peculiarity lies in the fact that the drug pushers were men of the cloth.
A few months ago a customs official was expecting the arrival into Lebanon of two machines for making chocolate. An employee involved in the shipping process from China told him that they are designed to manufacture drugs. Ahmad informed the customs land control unit. Customs agents were able to seize the two machines which are used to manufacture a drug known as Captagon and the importer, Marwan S., was arrested.
The importer’s “doctor” title attracted the investigators’ attention. So a parallel investigation ensued at the Central Office for Drug Control to verify his identity. If he was the man they thought, then the security forces had hit the jackpot because he is one of the most wanted people involved in drug manufacturing in Lebanon.
Sure enough, the interrogation revealed that Marwan S. is the suspected “doctor.” He confessed that he manufactures drugs and trafficks in the raw ingredients that drugs are made from and the machines used in the process. It turned out that one of the seized machines was going to be taken to the Bekaa and the other to the North.
The information that the “doctor” provided led to the seizing of five tons of liquid caffeine and 2,330 liters of ether used for making Captagon. It also contributed to the arrest of a customs agent at the Beirut Port called Pierre H. who apparently imported the seized materials and hid them. A retired chemist with the Internal Security Forces was also arrested and 100 kilograms of caffeine that he had bought from the “doctor” were seized at his house.
The three arrested suspects admitted that about 10 people are involved with them in the drug manufacturing operation.
Search and investigation warrants were issued and the Bekaa branch of the Office of Drug Control was able to arrest Ahmad Z. and his brother Mahdi in the town of Iaat.
Ahmad admitted to mixing the chemical materials to manufacture the drugs for Imad M. and his partner, a sheikh (Islamic cleric) called Hashem M. from the town of Nabi Shit.
It was later determined that the sheikh’s brother Jihad was preparing to receive the mix and return it as “pills marked with the Captagon logo.”
Ahmad also said that he got the raw materials from Marwan S., known as the “doctor,” and that he used to give the pills to two men from the town of Ersal, who in turn smuggled them.
Incidentally, Saudi Arabia is the biggest consumer of Captagon tablets.
Expanding the investigation with Ahmad led to the seizing of four tons of chemical materials used in making the Captagon tablets that were hidden in a warehouse in Iaat which belongs to Nazir Kh.
The latter was arrested but he denied any relationship to the manufacturing operation saying that he leased his warehouse to Ahmad Z. and his brother in law Hussein A. M.
Then the house of Zulfiqar M., the sheikh’s driver, was raided and some drug manufacturing tools were seized as well as raw materials used in the manufacturing process, but Zulfiqar managed to escape.
At the same time, security forces received information that a religious school (hawza ilmiyya - a seminary or traditional Islamic school of higher learning) in the Bekaa located in al-Asira neighborhood is being used as a cover to manufacture drugs and it is directly connected to the sheikh.
The school had received a licence from the Bekaa mufti, Sheikh Khalil Shuqair, but it was later revoked.
So a surveillance operation began in coordination with the Hezbollah leadership. Parties within Hezbollah took on the task of verifying the information.
The investigations of those arrested and the information gathered by the security forces led to the discovery of a warehouse containing a chemical factory for manufacturing drugs in the area between el-Tiro and Choueifat. The warehouse was raided and machines for manufacturing drugs as well as chemical drugs ingredients were found.
One security official said that the factory is on the same scale as enormous cocaine factories in Columbia. The security forces found out that it belongs to Haidar Th. who was arrested after he was lured in.
Haidar said that he manufactures base amphetamine with chemistry teacher Farouk M. for the sheikh and Imad M., revealing that another sheikh, called Abbas N., transports the raw materials to the factory and receives the manufactured goods. After a sting operation, the chemistry teacher was arrested in Haret Hreik and the sheikh at the Dahr al-Baydar checkpoint.
The investigators started interrogating those newly apprehended. The sheikh, who refused to take off his religious headdress during the interrogation, said that “there is a religious edict allowing its [Captagon] usage because it is a stimulant and not a drug.”
The chemistry teacher justified his involvement in drug manufacturing saying “the state neglects us.” He admitted to making about $1.5 million in a short period of time.
The investigations also revealed that Haidar Th. and Farouk M. have been manufacturing drugs in this warehouse since 2007, making $300 for every kilogram of base amphetamine. Both of them admitted to making about $1.5 million from manufacturing drugs for Sheikh Hashem and his partner Imad M.
But the security forces could not arrest Sheikh Hashem, his brother Jihad or Imad M. It appeared that he had escaped an hour before his house was raided and there was conflicting information about his whereabouts. It was rumored that he fled to Turkey or Iraq.
Marwan S. was released by the Baabda Criminal Court in return for a monetary bail. Information circulating in the Bekaa indicates that the two fugitive brothers never left Lebanon and that Hezbollah is trying hard to help in their arrest.
Hezbollah informed the judicial and security authorities that it does not provide political cover for anyone and that it is concerned with the pursuit of those involved regardless of their title or any family connections some of them might have with officials in the party.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.