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Cocaine bust in Marshall Islands

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 MAJURO — The Marshall Islands Police Department said Thursday that they confiscated three kilograms or 6.6 pounds of cocaine after they were tipped off that the drugs were being brought into Majuro from a remote outer island where the cocaine washed up recently.

A local man accompanying the cocaine on an Air Marshall Islands flight Monday afternoon was arrested, questioned and released while the investigation continues, police said.

Law enforcement authorities said the individual brought three “bricks” of plastic-wrapped white powder weighing about one kilogram each that were located underneath layers of freshly cut, uncooked pieces of pig parts in a food and drink cooler.

Confiscation of the cocaine from Ailuk Atoll is the latest development in an explosion of hard drug use in the nation’s capital, Majuro, since last year. That is  when cocaine, allegedly from a large volume that washed into Maloelap, another remote atoll, began being fed into the Majuro market and distributed in small nuggets as crack cocaine. In the March-April period, there were four suicides in men ranging in age from 31 to 54 who were associated with hard drug use and well outside the suicide profile in this country that normally involves teenagers and young adults.

For two decades, professionally wrapped bundles of cocaine, sometimes in excess of 100 kilograms, have washed up on the beaches of different atolls in the Marshall Islands. U.S. and Marshall Islands law enforcement authorities have said these large volumes of cocaine washing up on remote atolls reflect either use of the area as a transshipment point between South America and Asia, or drugs thrown overboard to avoid arrest by law enforcement that drift into the islands.

A passenger transported three kilograms of cocaine from a remote outer atoll to Majuro earlier this week on an Air Marshall Islands flight. He was arrested on arrival at the airport. Marshall Islands Journal photo

The packages of white powder confiscated at the airport this week were later confirmed as cocaine, Criminal Investigation Division head Capt. Vincent Tani said Thursday. Tani was part of the police group that arrested the man and confiscated the cocaine at Amata Kabua International Airport.

The three one-kilogram cocaine packages have a street value in the U.S. of about $600,000, according to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.

The arrival of the cocaine from Ailuk Atoll suggests “there is a lot of washed up cocaine at Ailuk and no one has reported it,” said Tani. Cocaine has also been coming into Majuro from a similar supply in Maloelap Atoll, according to multiple reports.

It is sold locally mostly in the form of crack cocaine — as small “rocks” that sell for $5 each.

The Ailuk man, whose name wasn’t immediately released, was arrested, questioned and then released pending completion of the investigation.

Meanwhile, three Majuro men have been charged since late June with selling crack cocaine, including the latest one late last week.

Brown Tartios is the third Majuro man to be taken to court by the Attorney General’s Office for alleged drug dealing since late June this year. The ongoing prosecutions of alleged drug dealers in different communities around Majuro suggest the widespread use of crack cocaine in the capital.

Tartios is charged with one count of selling of prohibited drug, a felony-level charge that carries with it a potential penalty of up to 15 years in jail and a $50,000 fine.

Tartios was charged based on a police sting operation in which he sold two pieces of crack cocaine to a police informant who went to his home to make the purchase, according to the charge before the High Court.

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