The Methamphetamine seized in the case of convicted drug criminal Hefner Derbai could have had a street value of over half a million USD, according to police data on illegal drug prices in Palau.

Last week, Derbai, who told a judge he works as a bouncer at a local bar, pled guilty to a single court of criminal conspiracy to import meth into the Republic of Palau as part of a plea agreement. The plea deal allowed Derbai to avoid trial on a drug trafficking charge that would have seen him jailed for a mandatory minimum of 25 years if he had been convicted at trial. Sentencing is now at the discretion of the court, and a pre-sentence investigation is being carried out.

According to court records, Derbai was charged after an airmail parcel originating from the Philippines, suspiciously containing auto parts that were “not in factory condition”, was examined by Palau customs agents. Upon the discovery of over 450 grams of meth hidden in a bag among the car parts, law enforcement decided to carry out a controlled delivery operation, to see who would pick up the parcel from an airmail facility on Babelthuap Island. A relative of Mr Derbai, whom the Island Times has chosen not to name in line with witness protection standards,  showed up to collect the parcel at the facility, and was speedily detained by officers. However, the relative fully cooperated with the Narcotics Enforcement Agency, and it soon turned out that he had been totally unaware he was picking up a parcel containing anything illegal. Instead, it transpired, Hefner Derbai had duped the innocent relative into collecting the parcel, totally unwitting of its prohibited contents. As part of a surveillance-led operation, law enforcement allowed the parcel to be handed over to Derbai by the relative. After having taken receipt of the parcel, Derbai was then arrested and later criminally charged.

A law enforcement officer familiar with drugs enforcement in Palau told the Island Times that the street value of meth, when sold in a tiny single-fix quantity to end-users in Palau,  is between $1000 to $1200 per gram. This would mean the drugs seized in the Derbai case could have had a street value of up to $540 000.

If accurate, the price statistics, provided by the law enforcement officer to the Island Times after an information request from this newspaper, would also mean that Palau is one of the most expensive places in the world to purchase Meth. In the US mainland, the price of meth is believed to average between $50 and $200, depending on the methodology used to estimate the price, and the locality within the States. However, given the remoteness of Pacific Island states and the difficulties of importing drugs over long distances, the prices of imported illegal drugs are likely to be much higher in this region. Reliable studies are hard to come by for smaller Pacific Island States, due to the difficulty of producing estimated and the limited amount of source data available. However, even in Australia, which has a large, rave-party-fuelled illicit drug sector and has long been a destination country for imported hard drugs from Latin America, the price of meth is estimated to be very high: $500 as street value, according to a United Nations estimate publicized in 2017.