JOHOR BARU: A multi-million-ringgit ketum processing syndicate headed by a former civil servant has been uncovered by police here following the arrest of a lorry driver.
Outgoing Johor police chief Comm Datuk Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay said initially, police flagged down a lorry carrying fruits from a northern state during an operation at the Simpang Renggam rest area on the North-South Expressway at around 8.30am last Tuesday (Dec 21).
"Police detained the 42-year-old driver after he tested positive for drugs.
"Further checks on the vehicle found 700kg of ketum leaves hidden behind the fruits," he told a press conference at state police headquarters here on Monday (Dec 27).
Comm Ayob Khan, who was recently appointed Bukit Aman Narcotics Crime Investigation Department (NCID) director, added that following the first arrest, police launched two raids between 2.45am and 6am on Wednesday (Dec 22).
They arrested four suspects, including a married couple, between the ages of 19 and 36.
Comm Ayob Khan said police also seized ketum leaves, ketum water and processing equipment.
Three suspects tested positive for drugs and had criminal records, he added.
"One of the suspects we arrested is the mastermind and a former civil servant, who was kicked out of a government agency in 2014 for disciplinary problems.
"We also arrested his wife, who we believe works as an accountant for the syndicate," he said.
Police also arrested eight civil servants, aged 25 to 36, on Sunday (Dec 26) to help with the investigation, he added.
Police believe the syndicate was renting a factory in Kempas as part of its operation where it processed and packaged ketum before selling it on the local market.
The syndicate received its ketum supply from the northern part of the country where ketum drinks have become popular lately, Comm Ayob Khan said.
The current market value for ketum leaves is between RM35 and RM80 per kg while the price for a 1.5 litre bottle of ketum drink ranges from RM13 to RM25.
"This syndicate has been raking in between RM120,000 and RM200,000 of profit per month since starting operations in early 2017.
"We seized 75.5kg of ketum leaves worth RM755 and 90 litres of ketum water worth RM900 which can be supplied to 110 addicts," he said.
Comm Ayob Khan said the suspects were being investigated under Section 30(3) of the Poisons Act 1952, which carries a fine of not more than RM10,000 or a maximum of four years' imprisonment, or both, upon conviction.