In other instances, prosecutors may not say exactly what they’re investigating when they ask for transaction records. In that case, it’s up to the financial institution to request more information or try to figure it out on its own.

Paying for abortion services with cash is one possible way to avoid detection, even if it isn’t possible for people ordering pills online. Many abortion funds pay on behalf of people who need financial help.

But cash and electronic transfers of money are not entirely foolproof.

“Even if you are paying with cash, the amount of residual information that can be used to reveal health status and pregnancy status is fairly significant,” said Ms. Stepanovich, referring to potential bread crumbs such as the use of a retailer’s loyalty program or location tracking on a mobile phone when making a cash purchase.

In some cases, users may inadvertently give up sensitive information themselves through apps that track and share their financial behavior.

“The purchase of a pregnancy test on an app where financial history is public is probably the biggest red flag,” Ms. Stepanovich said.

Other advocates mentioned the possibility of using prepaid cards in fixed amounts, like the kinds that people can buy off a rack in a drugstore. Cryptocurrency, they added, usually does leave enough of a trail that achieving anonymity is challenging.

One thing that every expert emphasized is the lack of certainty. But there is an emerging gut feeling that corporations will be in the spotlight at least as much as judges.

“Now, these payment companies are going to be front and center in the fight,” Ms. Caraballo said.

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To Pressure Taiwan, China is Now Targeting its Grouper Exports

FANGLIAO, Taiwan — Lin Chun-lai bought his grouper farm in southern Taiwan about a decade ago with an eye on mainland China’s growing appetite for live fish. In just a few years, the former electrician made enough money to comfortably support his family of four and even open a small inn.

Then China abruptly banned all imports of grouper from the island, in an apparent attempt at turning the economic screws on Taiwan, a self-governed island that Beijing claims as its own territory. The move cut Mr. Lin and other farmers like him off from their main market, putting their livelihoods at risk and dealing a huge blow to a lucrative industry.

Taiwan’s unification with China is inevitable, but most of Taiwan’s 23 million people are in favor of maintaining the island’s de facto independence. As Beijing has ramped up pressure on the island, Taiwan has moved to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties with friendlier countries, including the United States, those in the European Union and Japan.

In recent years, Beijing has sent military aircraft toward the island almost daily. It has tried to isolate Taiwan, peeling off its few remaining diplomatic allies and blocking it from joining international organizations. It has also increasingly sought to restrict the island’s access to China’s vast consumer market, banning Taiwanese pineapples, then wax apples, last year after it said the fruits brought in pests.

their ties to forced labor practices could portend trouble for industries that depend on materials from China.

In recent days, Taiwanese agricultural authorities have contacted grouper farmers to discuss ways that the government can help, including by providing low-interest loans and feed subsidies and expanding access to domestic consumers and overseas markets. Another idea being floated is to include the fish in individually packaged meal boxes sold at train stations and on trains by Taiwan’s railway administration. Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency said on Tuesday that the agency would spend more than $13 million to support the grouper industry.

Taiwan’s Council of Agriculture has said it would consider filing a complaint about the grouper ban to the World Trade Organization. Lin Kuo-ping, the deputy director general of the official Fisheries Agency, said the government had reached out to their Chinese counterparts to discuss the inspection process but had not heard back. China’s General Administration of Customs did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Some grouper farmers said that if the ban was not lifted, they would have to settle for selling the fish on the domestic market at a huge loss. Until then, the fish will remain in the ponds. Mr. Lin, the grouper farmer, said he worried the groupers could die as a result of overcrowding.

He is now pinning his hopes on another kind of fish that he has been farming, the four-finger threadfin fish, which is also popular on the mainland. But he acknowledged that even this backup strategy was vulnerable to geopolitical shifts. Last year, Taiwan’s exports of the fish were worth nearly $40 million — and more than 70 percent went to China.

“Our biggest customer,” he said, “is still China.”

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What Happened on Day 97 of the War in Ukraine

BAKHMUT, Ukraine — The volunteers listened patiently to the pensioner and stuffed a frozen chicken into her shopping bag.

Olena Tyvaniuk, 70, a slight woman with a stoop, explained tearfully that she needed more than food. She needed drugs. “I have a son, he is 48, he is a paranoid schizophrenic,” she said. “I need medication for him.”

As the towns and cities of eastern Ukraine empty out in the face of the Russian offensive, some residents are choosing to stay on. Like Ms. Tyvaniuk, some are trapped by medical imperatives. Or they are too poor to leave. Or, disillusioned by the longstanding corruption of Ukrainian officials, they think things can’t be worse under the Russians.

Bakhmut, just 10 miles from the front, is largely deserted. There are few cars on the streets except for military vehicles; shops and banks are boarded up. Only one or two cafes and supermarkets are still open.

The only pharmacy is at the hospital where wounded soldiers are brought in from the front. Recently, bloodstained stretchers were propped up against a wall where a wounded soldier, his face bloody and swollen, swathed in bandages, smoked a cigarette with friends.

Yet in the middle of war, even as artillery booms not far away, civilians still walk by in the street, sometimes even with a child in tow.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Ms. Tyvaniuk said her son, who barely leaves his room, was refusing to leave. His medication was running out and the only pharmacy open in the town did not stock the medicine he needed, she said. He had enough left for only four days and was down to cutting slices from his remaining tablets.

“He does not understand the whole situation,” she said. “He does not even know his own address. I cannot leave him, and I never will leave him.”

Ukrainian officials have repeatedly called on civilians to leave eastern Ukraine as Russia has turned the full strength of its forces on seizing the region. But a portion of the population stubbornly refuses to go.

“Those who wanted to go have already gone,” said Ruslan, 42, a volunteer with the Union of Ukrainian Churches who drives people to shelters in western Ukraine. He said his group had evacuated 1,000 people from the Bakhmut area over the past month.

Yet of 20 people who had requested evacuation with his organization on Saturday, only nine took up the offer, he said. He had just risked the drive to the frontline town of Siversk to collect people, but came back empty. “No one wants to go,” he said.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

He asked that only his first name be published for fear of retribution from the Russian side.

Most of those remaining are the poor, the old and the infirm, volunteers and health workers said.

“We mostly see the elderly people seeking all kinds of support,” said Islam Alaraj, program manager for psychosocial support in Ukraine for the International Committee of the Red Cross. “They are the most vulnerable and they have plenty of health issues, and they have added psychological issues above that.”

For the most part, Ukrainian health facilities around the country, including psychiatric facilities, are still functional and receiving outside support, Ms. Alaraj said. But as fighting shifts, reaching those in need is becoming more difficult.

“This context is changing in a very fast way,” she said, “and we don’t know all locations and we don’t have access to all locations.”

Many residents interviewed said they could not afford to rent an apartment elsewhere, and feared losing everything they owned if they abandoned their homes. They also voiced distrust of promises of assistance from aid groups or the government.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

“They say they do not have money, and that people will deceive them when they get there,” Ruslan said.

“Some of them are waiting for the Russians,” he added. “Let’s face it, there are those who just sit in their basements and wait for someone to bring them humanitarian aid. And for them it does not matter who passes them a package of aid, Russia or Ukraine.”

Police officers serving until last week in the town of Sievierodonetsk said they saw the mood shifting as Russian forces were poised on the edge of the city. They abandoned a last evacuation when residents asked for extra guarantees.

“We don’t force anyone,” Chief Oleh Hryhorov of the regional police said. “Some sympathize with the other side.”

Russian troops were flying drones over the town to gather information on Ukrainian positions and some residents were acting as informers for Russia, he said. Already anticipating a Russian takeover, some residents were reluctant to talk to foreign journalists, he said.

In the town of Siversk, north of Bakhmut and close to the front line, a storekeeper suddenly shooed away customers and closed her doors in the middle of the morning for “stocktaking.” A volunteer ferrying medicines to families by bicycle said people were fearful of every interaction.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Several Ukrainians interviewed expressed bitter disaffection with their government. Many said they could barely survive on their pension, which amounts to as little as $70 a month.

Lyudmila Krilyshkina, 71, displaced after her home burned down in a rocket attack, wept as she complained that she was not able to draw her pension in Bakhmut. Since the shops were taking only cash, she could not buy food for herself and her parents, she said.

“They need to think of the people,” she said. “We understand there is a war but how are we supposed to survive?”

Another woman waiting to be evacuated complained that only voluntary organizations were helping the people, and that government officials were doing nothing. She asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

Disillusionment with previous corrupt governments helped propel President Volodymyr Zelensky to power in Ukraine. Since the Russian invasion, popular support for him has soared as the country has overwhelmingly backed his determination to fight. Yet there remains a deep, latent cynicism for the government and officials in Ukraine.

Ms. Tvyaniuk said she had spent 12 years fighting for justice after a corrupt court ruled against her and her daughter. Her daughter had successfully sued her former husband for alimony and child care payments but the police never enforced the court order and a judge helped falsify documents to overturn the ruling.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

“The police protected the courts and the courts protected the police,” she said. “This happened under Ukrainian rule, and now I don’t know if it would be better under Russian rule or Ukrainian.”

“We don’t know what to expect,” said Ihor, 44, an unemployed laborer sitting outside his apartment block. But he said he and his partner, Olha, 60, would stay and live under Russian rule if its troops seized Bakhmut, adding, “What else is there?”

He complained that the Ukrainian leaders were corrupt and had robbed the country and its workers. “They stole and put everything in their pockets,” he said. “And if Russia takes over, that will be finished.”

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Robert Malone Spreads Falsehoods About Vaccines. He Also Says He Invented Some.

“And almost without exception, these influencers feel that they have been wronged by mainstream society in some way,” Mr. Brooking added.

Dr. Malone earned a medical degree from Northwestern University in 1991, and for the next decade taught pathology at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Maryland. He then turned to biotech start-ups and consulting. His résumé says he was “instrumental” in securing early-stage approval for research on the Ebola vaccine by the pharmaceutical company Merck in the mid-2010s. He also worked on repurposing drugs to treat Zika.

In extended interviews at his home over two days, Dr. Malone said he was repeatedly not recognized for his contributions over the course of his career, his voice low and grave as he recounted perceived slights by the institutions he had worked for. His wife, Dr. Jill Glasspool Malone, paced the room and pulled up articles on her laptop that she said supported his complaints.

The example he points to more frequently is from his time at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego. While there, he performed experiments that showed how human cells could absorb an mRNA cocktail and produce proteins from it. Those experiments, he says, make him the inventor of mRNA vaccine technology.

“I was there,” Dr. Malone said. “I wrote all the invention.”

What the mainstream media did instead, he said, was give credit for the mRNA vaccines to the scientists Katalin Kariko and Drew Weissman, because there “is a concerted campaign to get them the Nobel Prize” by Pfizer and BioNTech, where Dr. Kariko is a senior vice president, as well as the University of Pennsylvania, where Dr. Weissman leads a laboratory researching vaccines and infectious diseases.

But at the time he was conducting those experiments, it was not known how to protect the fragile RNA from the immune system’s attack, scientists say. Former colleagues said they had watched in astonishment as Dr. Malone began posting on social media about why he deserved to win the Nobel Prize.

The idea that he is the inventor of mRNA vaccines is “a totally false claim,” said Dr. Gyula Acsadi, a pediatrician in Connecticut who along with Dr. Malone and five others wrote a widely cited paper in 1990 showing that injecting RNA into muscle could produce proteins. (The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work by injecting RNA into arm muscles that produce copies of the “spike protein” found on the outside of the coronavirus. The human immune system identifies that protein, attacks it and then remembers how to defeat it.)

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A Ban on 19 Singers in Egypt Tests the Old Guard’s Power

CAIRO — The song starts out like standard fare for Egyptian pop music: A secret infatuation between two young neighbors who, unable to marry, sneak flirtatious glances at each other and commit their hearts in a bittersweet dance of longing and waiting.

But then the lyrics take a radical turn.

“If you leave me,” blasts/explodes/shouts the singer, Hassan Shakosh, “I’ll be lost and gone, drinking alcohol and smoking hash.”

The song, “The Neighbors’ Daughter,” has become a giant hit, garnering more than a half- billion views of its video on YouTube alone and catapulting Mr. Shakosh to stardom. But the explicit reference to drugs and booze, culturally prohibited substances in Egypt, has made the song, released in 2019, a lightning rod in a culture war over what is an acceptable face and subject matter for popular music and who gets to decide.

The battle, which pits Egypt’s cultural establishment against a renegade musical genre embraced by millions of young Egyptians, has heated up recently after the organization that licenses musicians barred at least 19 young artists from singing and performing in Egypt.

arrested teenage girls who posted videos of themselves dancing, which is a crime there. And in 2020, Northwestern University in Qatar called off a concert by a Lebanese indie rock band whose lead singer is openly gay.

But online streaming and social media platforms have poked giant holes in that effort, allowing artists to bypass state-sanctioned media, like television and record companies, and reach a generation of new fans hungry for what they see as more authentic and relevant content.

Iran’s draconian restrictions on unacceptable music have produced a flourishing underground rock and hip-hop scene. The question facing Egypt is who now has the power to regulate matters of taste — the 12 men and one woman who run the syndicate, or the millions of fans who have been streaming and downloading mahraganat.

Mahraganat first rose out of the dense, rowdy working-class neighborhoods of Cairo more than a decade ago and is still generally made in low-tech home studios, often with no more equipment than a cheap microphone and pirated software.

DJ Saso, the 27-year-old producer of Mr. Shakosh’s blockbuster hit.

Many lawyers and experts say the syndicate has no legal right to ban artists, insisting that Egypt’s Constitution explicitly protects creative liberty. But these arguments seem academic in the authoritarian state of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, which has stifled freedom of speech, tightened control on the media and passed laws to help monitor and criminalize immoral behavior on the internet.

The syndicate’s executive members have adamantly defended their move, arguing that a key part of their job is to safeguard the profession against inferior work that they say is made by uncultured impostors who tarnish the image of the country.

YouTube.

He is one of the Arab world’s leading performers. Since he was barred, he has performed in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Iraq, and “The Neighbors’ Daughter” has become one of the biggest Arabic hits to date.

“It’s not the same old love songs,” said Yasmine el-Assal, a 41-year-old bank executive, after attending one of Mr. Shakosh’s concerts before the ban. “His stage presence, the music, the vibe, it’s fresh and it’s all about having fun.”

Mr. Shakosh would not agree to be interviewed, preferring to keep a low profile, his manager said, rather than to appear to publicly challenge the authorities. The ban has been harder on other artists, many of whom do not have the wherewithal or the international profile to tour abroad.

They have mostly kept quiet, refusing to make statements that they fear could ruffle more feathers.

Despite the squeeze, however, many are confident that their music falls beyond the grip of any single authority or government.

Kareem Gaber, a 23-year-old experimental music producer known by the stage name El Waili, is still burning tracks, sitting in his bedroom with a twin mattress on the floor, bare walls and his instrument, a personal computer with $100 MIDI keyboard.

“Mahraganat taught us that you can do something new,” he said, “and it will be heard.”

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Europeans Ponder Living With, Not Defeating, Covid

MADRID — Covid-19 infections were rising all across Spain, but the message from the country’s leader was clear: The government was not entering 2022 with the restrictions of 2020.

“The situation is different this time, and because of that, we’re taking different measures,” Pedro Sánchez, the prime minister, said this week, adding that he understood his people had grown impatient with the pandemic and that he was “fully aware of the fatigue.”

Across Europe, that fatigue is as palpable as the dampened Christmas spirit. The fatigue of another named variant of the coronavirus and another wave of infections. The fatigue of another grim year watching New Year’s Eve gatherings get canceled or curtailed, one by one.

But along with the exhaustion, another feeling is taking root: that the coronavirus will not be eradicated with vaccines or lockdowns, but has become something endemic that people must learn to live with, maybe for years to come.

reducing the risk of severe disease and hospitalization, according to recent studies.

Pfizer and Merck. The new drugs, which can be taken at home with a doctor’s prescription, will be available to some Covid patients who are at higher risk of becoming severely ill.

“I worry a bit because we don’t know much about Omicron,” Susanne Sesterer, 63, a retiree in Hanover, Germany, said on Thursday as she was doing her last shopping before Christmas. “But how much worse can it get?”

Others were giving up.

Dorotea Belli, a 42-year-old Italian who has had two vaccine doses, said she would not go to a family gathering for Christmas and instead stay home in Rome. Many of her colleagues had tested positive for the virus, she said, and her children, 4 and 1, are not eligible for vaccination.

“They and I will miss my parents very much,” she said. “But I don’t want to bring Covid around, and even if my husband and I are vaccinated, who knows?”

Spain’s calculus on new restrictions is not only factoring in the all-important holidays, but also legal barriers that emerged after measures taken by the government in 2020.

In July, Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled that the government did not have the authority to impose the lockdown measures that began in March 2020, which restricted Spaniards from leaving their homes except for essential trips like food shopping. Instead, the judges said, the measures required a full parliamentary vote, which few see passing with a majority in the future given how controversial the previous restrictions were.

“The government has its hands tied now,” said Luis Galán Soldevilla, a law professor at the University of Córdoba.

Spain’s lighter measures announced on Thursday received criticism from some sectors, like the Spanish Society of Public Health and Health Administration, a group that includes many health professionals.

“These measures don’t help much,” said Ildefonso Hernández, the group’s spokesman, saying limiting capacity indoors would be more effective. “It makes no sense that people walk the street with a mask and then take it off when they enter a bar.”

In Madrid, residents were charging ahead with their Christmas plans, despite the rising caseload and risks.

Fernando Sánchez, 55, a taxi driver, lost his mother and brother to Covid-19 six months ago. Nevertheless, he was unwilling to cancel his Christmas plans, which this year take place at the home of his in-laws, much as they had before the pandemic.

Antonio Jesús Navarro, 33, a software engineer, had been looking forward to spending Christmas with his girlfriend, who had traveled to Spain for the holidays from the United States. The two had not seen each other since before the pandemic began.

But then Mr. Navarro learned he had come into contact with someone who had tested positive for the coronavirus. The couple were isolating until he could get his own test results. He said he was frustrated with public messaging on how to stay safe from Omicron.

“Is an antigen test acceptable?” he said by telephone. “What happens if there are no symptoms?”

Hours later, Mr. Navarro called back to say he and his girlfriend had tested positive for Covid-19.

Nicholas Casey and José Bautista reported from Madrid, and Constant Méheut from Paris. Reporting was contributed by Raphael Minder from Geneva; Gaia Pianigiani from Rome; Christopher F. Schuetze from Hanover, Germany; and Léontine Gallois from Paris.

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A Plan Forms in Mexico: Help Americans Get Abortions

In Texas, a new law bars doctors from providing pills to induce abortions after seven weeks of pregnancy, and adds penalties of jail time and a fine of up to $10,000 for anyone who mails or delivers the medication.

Legal experts say such laws may be challenged after the F.D.A. decision, but for now, these state measures could discourage American doctors from sending pills to parts of the country with restrictive regulations.

“For the first time, Texas does have a way to protect women, through our criminal law, from people bringing dangerous abortion pills,” said Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life, an organization that helped craft the measure. “We’ll have to wait to see how well it is enforced in the coming months.”

Anti-abortion groups acknowledge that criminally punishing activists who distribute the pills, especially if they are from Mexico, may prove difficult. They would have to be caught and arrested in Texas, or extradited, experts say.

“This is a really terrible, lawless attack on life,” John Seago, the legislative director for Texas Right to Life, said of the Mexican activists’ plan to help women in Texas get abortions, adding that such efforts would “make it absolutely more difficult to do it, to enforce these laws.”

Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, the leader of Aid Access, an Austria-based group that provides abortion pills to women across the world, confirmed she has been prescribing the medication to women in Texas — who then receive the drugs by mail from a pharmacy in India — even after the state’s law went into effect this month.

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Judge Overturns Purdue Pharma’s Opioid Settlement

Under the crush of thousands of lawsuits, Purdue filed for bankruptcy restructuring in September 2019, which automatically put a hold on all the claims against it.

Nearly two years later, Judge Robert Drain, the bankruptcy court judge in White Plains, N.Y., confirmed a plan that had been approved by a majority of creditors who voted. Purdue would be formally dissolved and would re-emerge as a new company called Knoa Pharma that would still produce OxyContin but also other drugs. The new company’s profits would go to states and communities to fund opioid treatment and prevention efforts.

The Sacklers would renounce their ownership, eventually sell their foreign pharmaceutical companies as well, and contribute $4.5 billion of their fortune to the state and local opioid abatement funds.

In exchange, all lawsuits against Purdue would be extinguished, a benefit typical of bankruptcy. What made the settlement so contentious was the Sacklers’ insistence on being released from all Purdue-related opioid claims, although they had not personally filed for bankruptcy.

In court, lawyers said there are more than 800 lawsuits that name the Sacklers.

After Judge Drain approved the plan, it was immediately appealed by the United States Trustee, a branch of the Justice Department that monitors bankruptcy cases; eight states, including Maryland, Washington and Connecticut; the District of Columbia; and about 2,000 individuals. The appeal was filed in federal district court.

Lawyers challenging the plan argued that the Sacklers had essentially gamed the bankruptcy system. Moreover, they argued, Judge Drain lacked the authority to shut off a state’s power to pursue the Sacklers under its own civil consumer protection laws.

Credit…Caitlin Ochs for The New York Times

“Today’s ruling is a critical development that restores the state’s ability to protect the safety of Marylanders by holding fully accountable those who created or contributed to the opioid crisis, particularly members of the Sackler family,” said Brian E. Frosh, the Maryland attorney general.

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On Syria’s Ruins, a Drug Empire Flourishes

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.

Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.

An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.

Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.

found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.

hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.

While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.

After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.

Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.

Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”

Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.

A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.

Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.

“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”

sewn into the linings of clothes.

In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.

According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.

The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.

Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.

The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.

The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.

GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.

Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.

Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.

In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.

Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.

“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.

There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.

A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.

Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”

While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.

“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.

Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.

Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.

“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.

The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.

The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.

And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.

Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.

“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”

Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.

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