. UKCIA Research Library

Cannabis in Asia

Taken from the 1998/99 Geopolitical Drugs Dispatch report


Kazakhstan also produces opium, especially in the oblast (administrative region) of Kyzyl Orda, cannabis (in the Chu valley) and wild ephedra (in the valley of the Tien Chan mountain range). ...In 1997, 31.5 tons of drugs were seized, mostly cannabis derivatives, an increase of 150% over the previous year. ...In March 1998, a large-scale joint operation by the Russian and Kazakh drug squads led to the seizure of 1,215 kg of marijuana in the village of Podgornoye, from a truck supposedly taking onions to Russia, On the return route, the same network was importing hard drugs, particularly cocaine, for the Kazakh elite. In July of the same year, National Security Committee officials discovered a ton of marijuana concealed on wasteland in Taraza, the administrative center of the Dzhambul region. Some of the consignment was to have been sent to the Netherlands, the rest to users in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). ...The oblast of southern Kazakhstan is an excellent place to observe the emergence of problems connected with drug trafficking. The region is a crossroads between the southern edge of Central Asia and the Russian-speaking north, as well as a point of contact between the opium-growing areas of the Kyzyl Orda region and the huge stretches of wild or cultivated cannabis covering some 138,000 hectares of the famous Chu valley running from Kazakhstan to Kirghistan. At the heart of this strategic section of the drug corridor that stretches from Afghanistan to Europe, Chimkent, the main town of the region, is at the junction of road and rail links to Russia. This is why the influential Uzbek mafia, taking advantage of leaky borders, has set up shop just outside the town. Until the bombing campaign in February 1999, it ran the dozens of buses that travel between Chimkent and Tashkent, Uzbekistan, without being stopped for customs checks. Official regional statistics, which probably vastly underestimate the true situation, recorded 78 drug-related offences during the first seven months of 1998, compared to 83 for the total of 1997. However, this purely quantitative assessment ignores the fact that offences related to the sale and use of heroin are taking the place of those involving cannabis derivatives. The arrival of heroin on the market has been confirmed by a fall in prices, as the OGD special envoy observed: from US $50 to $60 a gram during the summer of 1997 to $20 in August 1998.


Over the past two or three years, Turkmenistan has become the chief route in Central Asia for exporting opiates and hashish produced in Afghanistan, some of which had first transited through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Turkmenistan has also become a major channel for importing precursor chemicals for Afghan chemists. About 38 metric tons of hashish, 1.5 tons of opium and, most importantly, 2 tons of heroin were seized in Turkmenistan in 1997. ...On November 1, 3 tons of hashish bound for Moscow were seized. In 1998, the Turkmen authorities confiscated a total of 22.2 tons of hashish and marijuana, 893 kg of opium, 390 kg of heroin and 1 kg of cocaine (which came from the Caucasus, although it is not known where it was manufactured).


In April 1999, a lecturer at the University of Khorog, a Tajik town on the Afghan border, told the OGD special envoy that the police had given him a list of students who used heroin - half were his own students. He estimated that 80% of university students have taken drugs at some time or other. In Osh, Kirghizstan, when a British doctor asked a class of 12- to 16-year-olds if they knew anyone who took heroin, all the hands in the room went up. Traditional, restricted use of opiates (opium and opium-based mixtures) and cannabis derivatives, which never gave rise to many social problems, has been replaced in the past few months by widespread heroin use among increasingly young age groups which health and social workers cannot cope with.


In 1998 seizures of opium dropped to 5 metric tons compared to 8.5 tons in 1997, while heroin fell from 5 tons to 3 tons, and hashish from 115 tons to 65 tons. The levels during the first 11 months of 1999 remain more or less on a par with 1998, including seizures of 10 tons of opium, 3.5 tons of heroin, and 60.5 tons of hashish....It is also notable that the offensives launched in Kashmir by Islamic groups supported by the Pakistani military are on each occasion preceded by intense activity by armed groups of Pashtun and Baluch irregulars along the Afghan and Iranian borders, and in particular in the villages of Dalbandeen, Rabat, Qila, Nushki, Nokundi, Saindak, and Chatt. Added to this is the fact that Saudi Arabians are building a veritable chain of mosques and Koran schools in this region whose exteriors resemble fortresses more than religious establishments. It was precisely in this region that the ANF seized 25.427 tons of drugs between January 1999 and March 2000, including 16.320 tons of hashish, 7.630 tons of opium, and 1.417 tons of heroin....The Return of Haji Ayub Afridi

The saga of Haji Ayub Afridi is a good illustration of the troubling links between traffickers and politicians in Pakistan, as well as the shady deals made by the United States with both sides. One of Pakistan's most important traffickers, Haji Ayub Afridi, returned to Pakistan on August 25, 1999 after serving a three and a half year sentence in a U.S. prison and paying a $50,000 dollar fine. From his refuge in Kabul and with an Afghan passport, Afridi voluntarily traveled to Dubai, from where he boarded a cargo flight to the U.S. in December 1995 after "negotiating" with American authorities. Hardly had his feet touched Pakistani soil when the ANF arrested him and detained him at first in a secret location for six weeks. He is today imprisoned in Karachi and awaiting trial for the export of 6.5 tons of hashish seized at Antwerp, Belgium, in the 1980s. Even those close to him do not hide the fact that he also became an important heroin trafficker during the war in Afghanistan.

Haji Ayub owns a palace reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights in Landi Kotal, part of the Khyber tribal agency not far from the Afghan border. A warrant for police to bring Haji Ayub before the court was first issued in 1983 following the discovery of 17 tons of hashish in a warehouse in Baluchistan. Three years later he was the subject of a wanted notice issued after a smuggler arrested in Belgium denounced him as his supplier. At the time he was under the protection of authorities in the tribal agency, which in theory he could not leave. The military coup against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto on August 6, 1990 allowed him to be one of eight deputies elected to Parliament from the tribal agencies (FATA) and to consequently benefit from parliamentary immunity. He ran under the ticket of the Islamic Democratic Alliance, the coalition of the new Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif. On May 16, 1992 he was even part of a delegation of 60 Pakistani tribal chiefs which traveled to Afghanistan to mediate between antagonists there.

But sensing that the military was not going to tolerate for long the corruption and chaos which characterized Nawar Sharif's first government, the barons of the tribal zones, including Haji Ayub, switched their support to the opposition headed by Benazir Bhutto, and participated in the manoeuvres which allowed the Pakistani President, Ishaq Khan, to dismiss Prime Minister Nawar Sharif on April 18,1993. This favor earned him a new immunity. However, his candidacy in the following elections was rejected and he was forced to go into hiding, dividing his time between Pakistan's tribal areas, Afghanistan, and the United Arab Emirates. He was approached by the Americans (with Benazir Bhutto herself acting as intermediary), who allegedly promised him a lenient sentence most likely in recognition of "services" he provided during the war in Afghanistan. In the end he accepted to go to the United States.

Numerous observers believe that Haji Ayub's arrest reveals ulterior motives on the part of Nawaz Sharif. The move violates international norms according to which a person should not be judged twice for the same crime. But these observers suggest that Nawaz Sharif may hope to use Haji Ayub's testimony to implicate Benazir Bhutto's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, imprisoned on corruption charges since October 1996, and Rehmat Shah Afridi, director of the Frontier Post, a newspaper favorable to the opposition, who was arrested in April 1999. Arrest warrants were issued for Haji Ayub and a half-dozen members of his family in July 1995 by a special court in Peshawar, which also called for the seizure of Haji Ayub's assets, estimated at $2.7 million. The case has dragged out in the courts aver since, which observers attribute mainly to the resources at the defendants' disposal. Some think the charges may one day be dismissed by the statute of limitations.


A report made public in the fourth quarter of 1998 by an investigating committee set up by the interior minister, Govinda Raj Joshi, revealed that "police officers, members of intelligence services, and officials from the internal revenue, customs, and immigration departments have links with the mafia". This facilitates smuggling at the Katmandu Tribuhan International Airport where several dozen government departments are represented. During the press making the report public, the interior minister declared that "the mafia has an influence on the government". The minister's statement comes at a time when Nepal is increasingly being used as a hub by international terrorist and criminal organizations trafficking in drugs, currencies, precious metals, arms and human beings. Finally, the authorities estimate that a proportion of Nepal's legitimate trade and illegal smuggling of gold and silver are used to launder the profits from exports of Nepalese hashish abroad.

Foreign Networks

The exportation of hashish, which is fueled by a booming production of cannabis resulting from the worsening of the crisis in agriculture, is constantly growing in scale. A total of 2.5 metric tons of hashish and 2.7 tons of marijuana were confiscated in Nepal in 1998. Very large seizures ranging from 200 kilograms to several tons were also carried out during the last few years in the United Kingdom, Denmark, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Canada.

While in the past most of those arrested were petty smugglers, the destruction by police of several networks in early 1999 makes it possible to obtain a clearer picture of drug-related organized crime in the country. There are at least two types of organizations: those runs by foreigners living in Nepal; and those run by Nepalis, often in a partnership with Indian nationals. Both types of gang maintain relations with one another, although the police have not yet been able to identify them with accuracy.

Harry Gerald Crespi, who was arrested by the National Drug Control Law Enforcement Unit (NDCLEU) on January 24, 1999, belongs to the first type of criminal network. An American and a Buddhist (he even boasts of being a Buddhist priest, or lama), Crespi is married to a Nepalese national and has been living in Nepal for fifteen years under various guises, including one of a student at Tribhuvan University, although he has confessed of attending the university little more than once a year. The police have reconstructed his modus operandi. Crespi was buying drugs from local producers in partnership with Nepalese exporters such as Purna Shrestha (still at large) and Arun Sharma.

His export network was based on agreements with American and Canadian nationals who traveled to Nepal on a regular basis. According to the police, Crespi and his Nepalese partners exported 576 kilograms of hashish to Toronto, Canada, in early 1998. When they arrested him, all the police found in his home were a few kilos of hashish that were to be shipped to Europe and the United States. In addition, the police ascertained that Crespi had opened bank accounts in Thailand and Hong Kong.

At about the same time, MJR, a resident of North Carolina, in the United States, who had several covers in Nepal, including a small paper factory with about twenty employees, was arrested. He obtained a resident permit in 1995 although at the time he did not live in Nepal permanently. He was also holding a French resident permit valid until 2005. Although no charges have been brought against him, the police was suspicious for several reasons. A picture of Vimal Kumar Bahl, the Indian "Hashish King", who has been serving a prison sentence in the United States since 1997, was found at MJR's home. The same picture was found at the homes of several Nepalese traffickers, which led the police to suspect that it could be a sort of membership card.

Some of the machinery at his factory could be used to manufacture hashish slabs and hashish oil. His Nepalese wife managed an NGO manufacturing paper and bags from hemp. On the night of his arrest, the police found 160 kg of carefully packed hashish in a street near his factory. MJR was released but placed under police surveillance. The lawyers of the American embassy in Katmandu obtained the lifting of the police surveillance and MJR left Nepal in March 1999.

Again, in January 1998, the police arrested RM, a Pole who did not have a visa or even a passport. In the room RM had rented, the police found a hashish press, material to make packets and false-bottomed suitcases. Since he was seen in the company of foreigners who seemed to be protecting him, the police think that RM is a gang member. He was expelled from Nepal. The Nepalese police suspect that MJR and RM have traveled back to India and even that they could have returned, by road, to live illegally in Nepal. These cases have pushed the interior ministry to investigate all the foreigners who live in Nepal without any precise motive, such as "philanthropists" and students. Those married to Nepalese women are especially suspected.

Nepalese Networks and Passport Trafficking

However, the authorities cannot be accused of blaming all trafficking activities on foreign scapegoats since the NDCLEU has also launched a campaign against Nepalese networks The police arrested five traffickers on January 21, 1999, including Amar Kumar Sharma (a.k.a. Bhatta), a former police officer who started by assisting traffickers before becoming one himself. He was sentenced on drug trafficking charges to ten years in prison in 1986. The police think that his network has connections in Mumbai (Bombay), India, where he traveled every week since his release from prison. He is also suspected of obtaining Indian nationality under a false name.

During one of his stays in Mumbai, he was seen in the company of a Nepalese member of parliament for the Communist Party who held a diplomatic passport, which was used on several occasions by drug smugglers entering Switzerland. Allegedly, the passport was "rented" for US $12,000 each time. The Nepalese foreign affairs ministry has established that at least 65 diplomatic passports have been "rented" in this way. Thus, a smuggler carrying 3.5 kg of heroin was arrested in Australia under the name of Ram Saran Mahat. At the time, the "real" Ram Saran Mahat was working at the finance ministry. Moreover, 350 blank passports have been "stolen" from the foreign affairs ministry. They have been used mainly to smuggle drugs and people between Nepal, India and Bangladesh.

Hashish for Gold

Hashish traffickers are using Nepal's unique tax laws on gold to launder drug profits. From July 1997 to July 1998, 25.5 tons of gold and 48 tons of silver were officially imported into Nepal. According to the legislation, every Nepalese subject spending at least a month abroad is authorized to import up to 10 kg of gold and 150 kg of silver into the country. An official of the ministry of civil aviation and tourism told the OGD correspondent that the gold and silver which are officially imported make up at most 25%, at the most, of the total brought into Nepal. The rest enters illegally. The majority of the gold and silver coming into the country is then illegally re-exported to India, where the metals are in strong demand (some 300 to 500 tons a year) due to ceremonial use, leading to higher prices than on the international market. Some 500 smugglers have specialized in crossing the border, buying the complicity of officials in both India and Nepal.

The gold and silver that are purchased in Dubai, Hong Kong or Singapore are sometimes paid for in American dollars from bank accounts in those countries. But usually payments are made with 500-rupee bills which, because of currency exchange control, have to be exported illegally from India or Nepal. Another means of payment is the hundi informal clearing system: against a deposit in Nepalese rupees in Nepal, US dollars are wired to a bank account in Hong Kong, for instance: the commission is 5%.

However, according to the Nepalese drug squad (NDCLEU) a proportion of the funds held abroad by Nepalese citizens, which are used to buy gold and silver, arise from the payment of hashish shipments exported to consumer countries. In exchange for not reporting such transactions, Asian banks charge 8% of the money deposited. The connection between hashish and gold trafficking comes as no surprise since a number of mafia figures, such as Deepak Mallotra, who has been in prison since 1990, are involved in trafficking hashish, gold and currencies.



India is, above all, an enormous narcotic's consumer market which, according to the authorities, is made up of 7 million to 9 million users for a population of nearly 1 billion. But the majority of these are recreational and traditional users of cannabis and opium derivatives. In 1998, some 63 metric tons of hashish were seized in India. This cannabis by-product comes either from Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Nepal, or is produced in India itself. Tamil Nadu is the largest cannabis-producing state in India. The opium seized there (2.031 metric tons in 1998 and 1.189 tons during the first three quarters of 1999) originates either from the diversion of legal crops, whose production is destined for the pharmaceutical industry, or from small farms with illegal crops, in particular in northeast India, where 132 hectares were destroyed in 1998 and 291 hectares during the first three quarters of 1999. The potential output of these farms totalled 5.574 tons and 13.125 tons, respectively....

The students are perfectly familiar with these substances of which the police are completely unaware. Drugs such as hashish and heroin, which were fashionable in universities in the 1980s, are no longer so much in demand. At first, they were very expensive, and were used only by better-off students. When prices fell, their use spread to students of more modest means and they stopped being attractive to the rich, who started looking for substances which only they would use. Between January 1, 1997 and May 1, 1998, police in New Delhi seized 22.5 kg of heroin (white and brown), 18 kg of hashish, 750 kg of marijuana, and 280 mescaline tablets. In the case of the mescaline, it is probable that the amount seized does not reflect the true availability of the drug, as the Indian police are more often than not unable to distinguish synthetic drugs from medical drugs.

Another factor that has led students to turn away from cannabis derivatives and opiates is, in the first case, the impact of anti-smoking campaigns in schools (an argument that is also valid for heroin when smoked) and, in the second case, the unattractive, tell-tale marks left on the arms when the drugs are injected. Students are therefore turning to synthetic drugs, which only need to be discreetly swallowed as if they were medical drugs in New Delhi, Mandrax and Dexedrine, or a combination of the two, are the most sought-after. But it is fashions among young westerners passed on by western tourists in India and by young Indians who have traveled abroad, and especially by the media, that are the reason for the current popularity of ecstasy and mescaline....The government believes anti-drug campaigns should continue to focus on heroin (in the form of brown sugar, known locally as "smack"), marijuana, and hashish - still very popular among ordinary people in big cities.


...The only field where China's war on drugs can claim some success is in the fight against cannabis production and marijuana trafficking. Nevertheless, cannabis products remain easily available on the consumer market, especially in Beijing, while the use of heroin is spreading.

Cannabis Targeted by Eradication Campaigns

More than 5.1 tons of marijuana were seized in 1999, 137% more than in 1997, mainly in the special economic areas of Shenzen, Zhuhai, and Shantu, all bordering on Guangdong province, which is itself close to Macao and Hong Kong. This seized marijuana is produced in, and imported from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. Increased marijuana imports are due to the tough eradication campaigns carried out by the Chinese authorities in Yunnan Province and in the autonomous Uighur region, China's largest cannabis producer areas. The Yunnan government vowed in 1998 that the province would be "cannabis free" by 2000. The eradication campaign seems to have had an impact. According to recent observations by OGD correspondents, the wild cannabis plants that used to grow everywhere in the towns of Kunming, Dali and Lijiang have practically disappeared. In Xishuangbanna, marijuana is increasingly difficult to buy although ethnic minorities such as the Yi, Lahu and Wa continue planting cannabis in isolated areas, both to produce fibers and as a recreational drug. After the cannabis buds have dried, a proportion of the harvest is smoked in producer areas while the rest is sold outside the region to enhance the revenue of the extremely poor mountain dwellers. It is possible to buy high-grade marijuana from the Burmese trading communities in the towns of Ruili, Daluo and Jinghong, the capital of Xishuangbanna.

It seems that the eradication campaign has reached the north-western province of Xinjiang, where cannabis is grown exclusively for manufacturing hashish. After a fine of 500 yuans (US $1 = 8 yuans) per cannabis plant was introduced by the authorities, the farmers have relocated their plantations to some oasis in the south of the province. Law enforcement has led to a rise in marijuana prices in Xinjiang, where a kilogram now costs between 3,000 and 4,000 yuans, and to the introduction of new farming methods. According to the testimonies of several Uighars living in Beijing, more and more cannabis is grown in greenhouses and apartments. In the large cities like Beijing, Canton and Shanghai, in spite of the easy availability of hashish in the Uighur community, some marijuana is produced by amateur growers using high-pressure sodium lamps....

Beijing's Open Drug Scene

The trade in hashish and heroin has been added to the various types of legal and illegal activity taking place in the neighborhoods of Beijing where Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking ethnic groups have flocked since the early 1980s. Chinese and Uighur heroin dealers and addicts hang around the streets of the Weigoncun and Ganjaiku districts, in the west of the Chinese capital, some "chasing the dragon", others injecting on the sidewalks. Patrolling police cars do not seem to worry anyone much, not even the dealers calling out to potential customers. According to Ali, a restaurant owner interviewed by the OGD special envoy, many of the Uighurs who emigrate to Beijing bring one or two kilograms of hashish with them, which they can sell for 8,000 to 9,000 yuans a kilo, the equivalent of between US $l,000 and $1,125. In the Xinjiang autonomous region where Uighurs are in a majority, a kilogram of hashish costs around $400 to $500, or about 3 000 to 4 000 yuans. Top-grade hashish is sold retail at $50 for 12 grams within the Uighur community of Beijing. A cheaper, lower grade manufactured from cannabis growing in the wild, whose THC content is 3% to 4%, is also available. Well-off consumers (Uighurs, Chinese and Westerners) can also buy high-quality hashish from Beijing's Afghan and Pakistani communities, but it is more expensive: $1,250 to $1,500 a kilo, and $60 to $75 for 12 grams.

Most of the Uighurs who start by selling hashish usually graduate to dealing heroin which, if more risky because penalties are much higher, is also more rewarding. The dealers of hashish and heroin are usually unemployed men, waiters or kebab sellers. The wholesalers and semi-wholesalers - every neighborhood has at least one - are often restaurant owners who invest the profits of their drug activities in legal businesses in Beijing or in real estate in Xinjiang. In the Weigoncun and Ganjaiku districts, heroin sells for $25 to $30 a gram. According to the epidemiological studies carried out by the Chinese health authorities, Beijing's addicts each consume about 1 gram of heroin a week on average. Most use very pure "brown sugar" (No. 3 heroin) from Afghanistan and Pakistan. White heroin (No. 4) is also available in the capital. It is trafficked by Uighur networks, which transport it from Yunnan, the Chinese province bordering on the Golden Triangle, despite the fact that law enforcement is much more intense in Yunnan than in Xinjiang. The southern districts of Chongwen and Quanwu, Beijing's poorest and mainly populated by ethnic Hans, are the most affected by drug addiction, prostitution and the sale of pornographic material, In these areas' night-clubs, dance-halls and karaoke bars, where the city's small entrepreneurs and nouveaux riches love to come for the thrill of getting into low habits, a tablet of "wangwotu" ecstasy sells for between $12 and $20 in spite of the presence of many plain-clothes police officers. Some ecstasy-manufacturing facilities are located in the Guangxi and Guangdong provinces, but the bulk of the Beijing market supplies come from Thailand and Europe. Law enforcement authorities try to make up for their lax approach to day-to-day policing by organizing spectacular busts. Thus, last June 26, following the United Nations World Day against Drugs, a large-scale police operation in Beijing resulted in the arrest of 600 people and the seizure of 85 kg of drugs, including heroin, hashish and ecstasy. But soon after the trafficking resumed as usual. Only 2,700 addicts have been identified officially in the capital, but the authorities admit that there are in fact many more. Beijing's six public drug-rehabilitation centers are so run-down and disorganized that the people in charge cannot even maintain order and keep addicts from using drugs within their walls. Yet, the centers cannot keep up with demand for treatment. According to an investigation by the local consultative assembly, the city's detoxification clinics that are under the control of the political police (Gonqanbu), and only admit "voluntary" patients who can pay for their treatment, cannot find enough staff to maintain order within their midst.


...Apart from opium and heroin (which users smoke, snort or inject), the drugs most widely abused in Vietnam are marijuana, amphetamine-type stimulants (including ecstasy recently) and LSD....Cannabis can grow just about anywhere in the country.

Some Vietnamese also buy marijuana in Cambodia at $5 a kilogram which can be sold for $35 dollars in Ho Chi Minh City. Dozens of people transporting five to six kilos of marijuana each are arrested on a daily basis. But there has never been any large-scale seizure and no major trafficker has ever been arrested.


"There are practically no laws left in Cambodia", a drug squad official told the OGD correspondent....The province of Koh Kong, on the Gulf of Thailand and giving access to the Southern China Sea, is the main cannabis-producing region of Cambodia. That explains why it has become a haven for backpacking ganja (marijuana) smokers over the past few years, and why huge quantities of Cambodian grass are being seized by customs practically all over the world....Police aid thieves

One case, similar to many others but rather more spectacular, which took place in the middle of 1998 shows the degree of corruption that reigns in the drug squad. The French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP), quoting official sources, headlined its story about the episode: "Naval police arrest six drug squad officers by mistake". That night, an unmarked fishing boat, with six Thai drug squad officers and a DEA official posted to Bangkok on board, cast anchor off the coast of Koh Kong province. As part of an undercover mission, the officers had arranged to meet Cambodian traffickers who were due to give them several metric tons of cannabis to be taken to the United Stales via Thailand. After a two-hour wait, two launches sped toward the fishing boat. To the astonishment of the Thai officers, the delivery men were members of the Cambodian naval police who inspected the fishing boat before heading off to an isolated island in the Gulf of Thailand.

The American DEA official, who was supposed to be representing the drug buyers, was ordered to telephone his "bosses" (who apparently owed the corrupt officers money for an earlier delivery) and to demand US $40,000 for the release of himself and his companions. The American called the intelligence department at the U.S. embassy in Bangkok, which had no difficulty pinpointing the fishing boat's position by satellite. Three-way negotiations then began between the Americans and the Thai and Cambodian authorities, ending with the "prisoners" being taken to Phnom Penh, then extradited to Bangkok four days later. No ransom was paid and the matter ended with a "memorandum of understanding" which claimed that no-one involved had contravened the law.

When questioned, the head of the Office of the National Control Board (ONCB) in Bangkok declined to comment "out of respect for relations between Thailand and Cambodia" The U.S. embassy responded in the same way, but a police officer at the French embassy was more forthcoming: "it's the country that we're most worried about in this region at the moment." He said inappropriate legislation and corruption had made Cambodia a transit zone for drugs and a haven for money-laundering. "A very large proportion of the 32 banks in Phnom Penh do nothing but launder drug money, not to mention the dozens of casinos, legal or otherwise", the French officer added. Cambodian politicians of all colors pay little attention to the origin of the cash deposited in the country's banks. One Thai source, who met Tep Darong, the new head of the ONCB, on 24 October 1998, reported that "the Cambodians are always saying they have no money and seem to accept corruption at all levels as a necessity."