Trade

Captagon traffic tops $5 billion in 2021 (report)

Captagon trafficking in the Middle East reached $5 billion (4.5 billion euros) in 2021, reflecting an exponential increase in a vast illicit trade that poses a growing risk to health and safety in the region , according to a report.

A New Lines Institute study, to be published on Tuesday and seen by AFP, paints an alarming picture of the impact of the boom in production of captagon, an amphetamine derived from an old mind-altering drug.

“The captagon trade constitutes a rapidly growing illicit economy in the Middle East and the Mediterranean,” says the report, written by analysts Caroline Rose and Alexander Soderholm.

“Based on large-scale foreclosures alone, the potential market value in 2021 is estimated to be over $5.7 billion” (about 5.1 billion euros), according to the report.

It represents a significant increase from an estimate of 3.5 billion dollars (about 3.1 billion euros) in 2020.

And only reflects the value of the seizures, quantified at more than 420 million tablets by the think tank, many countries having not disclosed annual statistics on this subject.

The actual amount of pills seized is likely higher and represents only a fraction of the total amount of captagon produced.

Syria is the main producer of captagon and Saudi Arabia is the main consumer.

Sold in the form of a small white tablet stamped with a characteristic logo representing two half-moons, captagon is originally a drug which was marketed from the beginning of the 1960s in Germany and whose active ingredient is fenetylline, a synthetic drug from the amphetamine family.

– The role of the Syrian state –

Banned since, captagon is now the brand name of a drug almost exclusively produced and consumed in the Middle East. It often contains little or no fenetylline and is close to “speed”.

The market value of captagon produced in Syria now far exceeds the country’s legal exports and has earned it the label of a “narco-state”.

The New Lines report documents how family members of President Bashar al-Assad and his regime are involved in manufacturing and smuggling Captagon.

The variable formula of captagon complicates the fight against this traffic, notes New Lines.

Suffocated by international sanctions imposed on the regime since the 2011 outbreak of the war in Syria, the government “uses trafficking as a means of political and economic survival”, according to the report.

Some captagon production units, although smaller, are located in Lebanon, already the world’s third largest hashish exporter behind Morocco and Afghanistan.

“Lebanon served as an extension of the Syrian captagon trade, it is a key transit point for captagon flows,” the report said.

– “Attractiveness” –

And figures of the Syrian regime benefit from the support of various militias to organize the trade, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, he underlines.

The Shiite group’s areas of influence include a long stretch of the Syrian-Lebanese border, giving it a key role in smuggling.

“With its experience in controlling the production and smuggling of Lebanese cannabis from the southern Beqaa Valley, Hezbollah appears to have played an important supporting role in the captagon trade,” New Lines claims.

If captagon is so far only consumed on a small scale in Europe, the situation could change.

“The diversity of effects and patterns of use give it a very broad appeal,” Caroline Rose told AFP.

Captagon is popular as a recreational drug – for more than 20 dollars (18 euros) a pill – by the golden youth of Arabia, but also by users in Syria – where it can be sold for less than a dollar – – who have to combine jobs to make ends meet.

“He could eventually enter the European market and carve out a market share,” says Ms. Rose.

Captagon trafficking in the Middle East reached $5 billion (4.5 billion euros) in 2021, reflecting an exponential increase in a vast illicit trade that poses a growing risk to health and safety in the region , according to a report.

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