Drug smugglers caught in Qatar

The Gulf States are an increasingly important operation base and drug transshipment point for Latin American groups, according to a prominent security analyst, using the region to coordinate transport to Europe and Asia while attempting to stoke local demand.

Speaking at a security summit in Qatar's capital Doha, drug trafficking expert Johan Obdola said drug cartels were attracted to the region for its wealth, reported The Peninsular. A Mexican cell was operating out of Dubai, he said, and Qatar was being used as a transit point for export to other Gulf States.

There is some evidence to support this assertion. In two weeks last September, there were six cases of attempted drug smuggling from an airport near Buenos Aires to the Qatar capital Doha on Qatar Airlines, reported La Nacion. A security source told the Argentine paper the "new route" had "exploded."

Qatar customs authorities claim to catch 90 percent of drug mules -- including 50 last year -- but Obdola questioned that figure, calling local seizures "the tip of the iceberg," reported the Gulf Times. Drug smugglers caught in Persian Gulf States face severe sentencesincluding the death penalty.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is not the first time Qatar has been mentioned as an emerging transshipment point for Latin American drugs. La Nacion newspaper reported in 2011 a link between Argentina and the emirate. According to that report, a kilo of cocaine can be sold for up to $90,000 in the region -- three times its value in the United States -- a highly lucrative trade if criminal groups are successful in increasing local demand.

SEE ALSO: LatAm Drug Traffickers Set Up in Guinea-Bissau, Expand in Africa

Authorities estimate that 75 percent of recovered cocaine in the Middle East comes from Brazil. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime also identified Brazil as major departure point for drugs heading to Europe and West Africa.