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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Police suspect importation of drug chemicals via ‘New Silk Road’ between Tilburg and China

The police are concerned that the daily freight trains between China and Tilburg are being used to transport raw materials needed to make synthetic drugs. Although a consignment of drug chemicals has only been intercepted once, police have indications that drug criminals are more likely to abuse the so-called Chengdu Express.

The direct train connection between the Chinese metropolis of Chengdu and Tilburg was put into use at the end of 2016. Both the municipality of Tilburg and the province of Noord-Brabant spoke in superlatives about the economic importance of this almost 12,000 kilometers long ‘new Silk Road’. On an annual basis, around 35,000 containers arrive at Railport Brabant, which is located on the Loven industrial estate. 

This economic success story probably also has a downside, the National Police suspects. On the basis of unspecified signals, the police suspect that a shipment of drug chemicals is regularly hidden in one of the containers of the Chengdu Express in China. Raw materials – precursors – for making synthetic drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamine mainly come from China, as has been known for much longer. The fact that Tilburg – or actually the whole of Brabant – plays an important role in the production of synthetic drugs makes it logical that the Chengdu Express may also be popular with drug criminals. 

The contents of the freight trains are checked at the border between Poland and Belarus. There the Chengdu Express enters the European Union. Due to the free movement of goods in Europe, this first check is also the last. When the trains arrive in Tilburg, checks will only take place if there are ‘indications of irregularities’, a spokesperson for Customs confirms. In collaboration with the police, there have also been a few unannounced checks at Railport Brabant in recent years, but these yielded nothing. According to the police, a batch of tartaric acid, a raw material for making crystal meth, was only found in the last months of 2016, just after the opening, according to the police. 

‘Industrial quantities’ 

Where the municipality of Tilburg sees ‘no additional cause for concern, the police say they would like to have ‘more insight’ into the contents of the freight trains. ,, We want extra checks, but it’s not that easy. The companies involved also have an economic interest, we cannot just control everything,” said police spokesman Thomas Aling. The containers that arrive in Tilburg contain ‘industrial quantities of chemicals. Aling: ,,We are not talking about 27 packs of chlorine.” Those chemicals are intended for bona fide companies in the Netherlands, who see the Chengdu Express as a relatively fast and cheap way of transport.  

So, Aling says, it’s a chore to find out if the containers also contain chemicals ordered by drug criminals. “If you find blocks of cocaine, it is immediately clear, but here it is much more complicated.” 

Economical interests

The dilemma of the police touches on a discussion that the mayor of Breda, Paul Depla, started two years ago: is the government prepared to damage the regular economy in the fight against undermining crime? He pointed out that of all containers arriving in the port of Rotterdam, only one percent is checked. Economic interests are still too often given priority over the fight against organized crime, Depla concluded. “That affects the credibility of the government in the fight against organized crime.”

The municipality of Tilburg agrees that the Central Brabant region plays a significant role in the world of synthetic drugs, but relies on the regular supervision of Customs. And: “The joint, unannounced checks have not confirmed the signals of the import of precursors via the train”. A spokeswoman for Railport Brabant says she is surprised to hear that the police are concerned about the Chengdu Express. “But we have no reason to suspect anything is wrong.”