Customs seizes crystal meth worth HK$16.5 million in city’s first ‘ice washing’ case

Dubbed a “drug beautician”, a 44-year-old man has been arrested by authorities, in what’s been called the city’s first case of “ice washing” — the whitening of crystal meth to increase its price on the street.

Customs officials nabbed the suspect and a 35-year-old woman, believed to be his girlfriend, on Friday, according to a government press release.

During a raid at the man’s private residential flat in Yuen Long, officers netted about 32kg of methamphetamine — worth HK$16.5 million (US$2.1 million) — as well as equipment for removing impurities from the drug.

The woman, meanwhile, was nabbed at an apartment in Sheung Shui and was allegedly in possession of 60g of meth.

According to Apple Daily, Lee Ka-ming, divisional commander of drug investigation at the customs bureau, said they discovered the workshop on May 8 while investigating the suspect.

He said the suspect was a “drug beautician” who oversaw a process of whitening the drug, also known as ice.

The process, he said, involves dissolving, vaporizing, distilling and drying the yellowish substance, which lightens its colour and reduces its unpleasant odor, raising the price by as much as 20 to 30 percent, or from HK$520,000 to HK$590,000 (US$66,250 to US$75,160) per kilogram.

He said the “washing” did not increase the strength or chemical purity of the drug but just made it better looking for sale.

According to the SCMP, the case is the first “ice washing” operation discovered by Hong Kong authorities.

The process, according to the newspaper, was relatively cheap — with a HK$1,000 (US$127) centrifuge the most expensive component — the procedure was time consuming and only half the batch seized had been whitened.

The male suspect is expected to face court today on drug trafficking and manufacturing charges.

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