Vigilante drug investigators turn up 500k in illegal payments

The Kachin Anti-Drug Committee, a community-based organisation in the jade-mining town of Hpakant in Kachin State, turned up a ledger containing evidence of half a million dollars’ worth of payments to Kachin State officials, following the arrest of a drug dealer in June. Those that received payments included “an army commander, top police officials, anti-drug officers, township officials and others,” an investigation by the Associated Press has discovered.

The committee did not provide the AP with line-by-line details of specific amounts or to whom the payments were made to because community leaders seek to use the information they have acquired as “leverage” over officials to encourage a response from the authorities.

The AP report said the committee claims the arrest that turned up the ledger also turned up US$3 million in cash and a “huge amount” of drugs.

The AP report says the committee was founded last year to fight “the surge in drug use in Kachin,” where use of illicit drugs – particularly heroin and methamphetamine – has skyrocketed in recent years.

Hpakant – closed off to foreigners – is the principal jade mining centre in Myanmar, a shadowy but lucrative trade estimated this week by transparency watchdog Global Witness to be worth a staggering $31 billion in 2014.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

Practically none of this wealth has trickled down. Among workers in the jade mines, drug abuse has become endemic, and rates of HIV infection are sky-high. Workers congregate in open-air ‘shooting galleries’ near the mines to get their fix, and reports indicate that some workers receive drugs in lieu of money for their labour.

More stories

Latest Issue

Stories in this issue
Myanmar enters 2021 with more friends than foes
The early delivery of vaccines is one of the many boons of the country’s geopolitics, but to really take advantage, Myanmar must bury the legacy of its isolationist past.
Will the Kayin BGF go quietly?
The Kayin State Border Guard Force has come under intense pressure from the Tatmadaw over its extensive, controversial business interests and there’s concern the ultimatum could trigger fresh hostilities in one of the country’s most war-torn areas.

Support our independent journalism and get exclusive behind-the-scenes content and analysis

Stay on top of Myanmar current affairs with our Daily Briefing and Media Monitor newsletters.

Sign up for our Frontier Fridays newsletter. It’s a free weekly round-up featuring the most important events shaping Myanmar