Malaysian Authorities Seize Nearly a Ton of Fentanyl Bound for Dubai

Published: 20 December 2023

Kuala Lumpur AirportThe fentanyl was found by authorities at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 72 aluminum bottles said to contain fragrances or perfumes. (Photo: Craig, Wikimedia, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

The Royal Malaysian Customs Department reported on Monday the seizure of over 800 kilograms of fentanyl at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport Cargo Complex, the country's largest airport.

On December 9, 2023, a customs team conducted a search of a cargo shipment consisting of 36 boxes containing 72 aluminum bottles, purportedly filled with fragrances or perfumes, as indicated by the consignment. Instead, 807.9 kilograms of liquid fentanyl were discovered.

This marks the first major bust of the so-called "zombie drug" outside North America and the first fentanyl drug seizure in Malaysia, authorities stated.

The illegal shipment arrived from Bombay airport in India and was intended to transit through Malaysia to Dubai, UAE, authorities confirmed. The total value of the seized load exceeded RM$44.4 million (US$9.4 million).

“This is our first seizure involving this type of drug, which is 100 times more dangerous than morphine and 20 to 40 times stronger than heroin. If it is mixed with xylazine, it will cause people to become like zombies,” said Datuk Sazali Mohamad, deputy director-general of The Royal Malaysian Customs Department, to local media.

According to DEA reports, India has become an exporter of fentanyl powder and fentanyl precursor chemicals, especially for cartel production in Mexico, a primary source country for fentanyl and related substances, along with China.

“The chemical industry in India is large, very poorly regulated, and could very easily become the new supplier if China went completely offline,” stated Vanda Felbab-Brown, an investigator at the Brookings Institution, to InSight Crime.

The United States' large user base makes it a coveted market for transnational fentanyl traffickers. The country is currently experiencing one of its worst drug crises in history, with just under 110,000 overdose deaths between 2021 and 2022.

Two-thirds of the deaths in that timeframe resulted from overdoses on synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, authorities said.

It is not known at this time if Dubai was the fentanyl shipment’s final destination or merely another transit waypoint.