Sunday, Jun 25, 2017, 6:25 PM CST – China

Special Report

Narcotics Officer

THE DOPE BEAT

Half of China’s illicit drugs enter the country via Yunnan Province, keeping the province’s narcotics force on their toes. NewsChina speaks to a Yunnan drug detective about the double-life of an undercover narc

Fu Suzhou Photo by liu ranyang

Fu Suzhou shows our reporter how to check the quality of drugs Photo by Liu Ranyang

Fu Suzhou is relieved that he can finally use his real name again. Having spent the last 16 years undercover investigating narcotics, the 51-year-old officer has taken part in hundreds of drug deals.

Even after having given up his assumed identity, old habits die hard. Fu still dresses for the role he’s been playing for the majority of his career, sporting plaid shirts and heavy gold necklaces, and he still glances over his shoulder before darting into his office building. He rarely goes out in public with his family.

“In undercover narcotics operations, playing a character is paramount. It’s a matter of life and death,” he told NewsChina.

As the deputy head of the No 1 Drug Task Force at the Kunming Public Security Bureau in Yunnan Province, Fu worked his entire undercover career using the same false identity – a drug trafficking boss from Zhejiang, his real-life home province.

Sifting through his career, he never once fired a gun, and managed never to blow his cover. He helped build strong cases that put over 80 drug suspects behind bars and yielded seizures of 110 kilograms of drugs worth 7 million yuan (US$1.13m).

Getting Started

In 1998, after a short stint in the army, Fu was sent to work at the Narcotics Bureau in Kunming, the first of its kind to be set up in China. Bordering the Golden Triangle, a region encompassing parts of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand notorious for being one of the world’s largest narcotics production bases, Yunnan Province has long been the front line for China’s anti-drug efforts.

According to a report on drug control in China in 2011, over 50 percent of drugs in the country came from the Golden Triangle, making Yunnan the most likely point of entry.

Speaking to NewsChina, Fu reminisced about his first – and probably his most fortuitous – encounter with drug runners, shortly after becoming a narc. While searching passengers’ luggage on a long-distance bus heading to Kunming, Fu found four heavily scarred bunches of bananas. Fu peeled one, and found them to be stuffed with condoms full of heroin weighing a total of 1 kilogram. Fu confessed that such easy busts were very rare.

“Anywhere there’s room to hide something, drug trafficking is possible,” he told our reporter.

Three months later, Fu was assigned to work as an undercover detective to meet two drug dealers from Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, since his accent matched theirs. On the way to the deal in his car, Fu picked up the informant who was to vouch for him, and the two rehearsed their back story. Arriving at the destination, the police informant handed Fu a bag containing 200,000 yuan (US$32,400) in cash.

Fu, 35 years old at the time, followed the informant to the second floor of an old building. When the informant knocked on the door, Fu’s hands were trembling and sweating. Entering the room, he nodded nervously to the young men inside.

“This is Boss Zhang, who I told you about before,” said the informant.

“Where’s the money?” replied the stouter of the two men.

“I have to check the goods first,” retorted Fu.

The tall smuggler took out a parcel packed in wrapping paper, and handed it to Fu, who fumbled with a key trying to cut it open. The other drug dealer handed him a large knife.

Fu cut open the parcel, scattering powder all over the floor. He then scooped a small pile onto a piece of tinfoil and burned it, verifying that it was heroin.

The two drug dealers leaped towards Fu to snatch the cash, and during the struggle, Fu managed to trigger the alarm hidden inside his pocket. A minute later, six police officers burst into the room and handcuffed the two drug dealers, the informant and Fu.

During the subsequent interrogation, the dealers said that they had suspected that Fu was a police officer, since he looked clumsy and ill at ease. Fu told NewsChina that the experience taught him always to keep his wits about him, and that he learned the hard way that there is no room for error while undercover.

Peril

Even Fu’s wife was never fully aware of the nature of her husband’s  job. More than 10 years ago, Fu called a family meeting, where he established three rules – he would not accompany his wife and son in public places, and they were not allowed to speak to him if they happened to meet by chance. On the phone, if Fu said “I’m busy,” they should not ask why.

For safety reasons, Fu sold his apartment in the housing complex designated for the local police. Following any undercover work, Fu would make a detour on his way home to throw off any tails.

Over the years, Fu developed a special talent: the ability to assess the quality of drugs by touch.

“The image of a police officer stabbing a knife into a package of heroin and tasting it is a media invention,” he said.

Perhaps Fu’s most memorable experience was in 2006, when two dealers from a remote province contacted Fu via an informant, wanting to buy 14 kilograms of heroin and 200,000 pills of methamphetamine.

After several meetings in Kunming, Fu agreed to sell them what they wanted. To prove their sincerity, they gave Fu a down payment of 1.2 million yuan (US$194,400), the largest amount he had ever received.

However, the drug dealers proposed to make the trade in their province, but Fu said this was “a dangerous route full of uncertainties.” The drug dealers refused to acquiesce, putting the deal in jeopardy.

The two sides finally agreed to meet on neutral ground, but the final payment had to be delayed.

Days later, when Fu was planning to meet the dealers in a hotel they had booked, he learned from the informant that the drug dealers were keeping an AK-47 assault rifle in their room.

Over the next few days, Fu and the informant noticed that they were being followed. Fu was spooked, and proposed to meet the dealers alone, but was rebuffed.

“I am a police officer, but he was only an informant – why should he risk his life?” asked Fu.

When the deal eventually happened, the two dealers were caught with 2.2 million yuan (US$356,400), and an AK-47 loaded with six rounds, one of which was in the chamber.

Days later, Fu discovered that police in the dealers’ province had mistaken him for a Yunnan drug smuggling kingpin, and had followed Fu to the neutral province. The men following Fu were police officers, who had been authorized to use deadly force to bring him down. It was only upon intervention from higher authorities that the operation come to an end.

“I could have been shot dead – by fellow police officers,” Fu said.

Retiring

Fu considers himself lucky only to have been wounded once in his career. On duty one morning, Fu found a young man sleeping in the back seat of a taxi. As Fu woke the man, a gun dropped from his pocket – Fu managed to restrain the man, but got caught in the car door, earning him a 20-centimeter gash in his leg. In the trunk of the taxi, Fu found 12 bags of heroin.

Fu said that being circumspect is the most important quality for an undercover detective. In some extreme cases, when Fu was asked to consume drugs to verify their quality, he would make use of his special talent, bluffing his way through by feeling the drugs with his fingers. According to Fu, the dealers never pressed the matter.

Positions on the narcotics team are some of the most dangerous jobs in China’s police system. Data from the China Narcotics Control Foundation showed that from 2010 to 2012, 923 Chinese narcotics officers died or were wounded in the line of duty. Since 1979, 55 officers have lost their lives in Yunnan Province alone.

But in Fu’s opinion, undercover work is “the most rewarding job a police officer can perform.”

Fu said that in the first four months of this year, 5,761 drug dealers were arrested, resulting in the seizure of 6.76 tons of narcotics in Yunnan. What’s more, from 2011 to 2013, Yunnan has seen an average yearly seizure of 16 tons of drugs, including heroin and methamphetamine, accounting for roughly 80 percent of the total volume of drugs seized in China.

Nowadays, Fu’s fitness and reflexes are not what they used to be – he can no longer handle the three-day shifts, and he quit the undercover team to become a normal narcotics officer early this year.

“As a narcotics officer, you have to live two contradictory lives. It’s impossible to live one life,” he said. “I got tired of the days when you tell a lie, and then need 100 more to cover it.”

His favorite hobby now is educating college students on the harm caused by drugs – he never misses an opportunity to do so, and is planning to compile his experiences into a book.

“At least it will make my son realize that his father is a hero.”

Tags:

Editor's Picks

Sex for Snacks

In cities like Shanghai and Chongqing, a handful of high school…[More]

Worked to Death

A growing number of young Chinese white-collar employees are dying of…[More]

TROTSKY IN CHINA

How Communism’s most controversial theorist finally found an audience – in…[More]

What do Chinese People Want?

“I wish I could do what you do.”…[More]

THE HERMIT HUNTER

A student of Buddhism with a keen interest in China’s…[More]

Prize Fighter

Elevated into the State-approved pantheon of great Chinese writers thanks to…[More]

Dams in Distress

In 1975, over 60 dams collapsed after a rainstorm in Zhumadian city, Henan…[More]

Pathologically Politicized

Practitioners at all levels concur that “messy” is the word that…[More]

HIVE MINDED

China’s indigenous honey bee is under threat from both environmental…[More]

Exam Boot Camp

A middle school in Anhui province has earned a reputation for…[More]

The New Class

China’s growing online education market has attracted the attention of…[More]

From Stall to Mall

Taobao’s shift towards a business-to-consumer model has come at a…[More]

In Whose Court?

The failure of the country’s administrative litigation system has prompted…[More]

Tradition on Trial

After Confucianism made the maintenance of inequality between the sexes fundamental…[More]

Inevitable Brutality

The vicious murder of a doctor in a Zhejiang hospital shows…[More]

Progress or Pornography?

A new sex education primer aimed at elementary school-age children has…[More]

Graft Breeds Graft

The gap between the investigation and prosecution of official corruption cases…[More]

Saving Nature

The concept of animal welfare is yet to be widely acknowledged…[More]

Problem Solved?

Former Politburo member Bo Xilai’s public trial sends mixed messages…[More]

BEWILDERING

A 74-year-old man surnamed Xie from Shenyang, Liaoning Province was duped out of 420,000 yuan (US$69,342), despite bank employees’ efforts to…[More]

An Avoidable Tragedy

Poor city planning and lax safety regulations turned a minor gas…[More]

Who Cares?

A new law decrees that all Chinese citizens are now obliged…[More]

ANGRY

A policeman pulled his gun to dissuade villagers from stealing oranges…[More]

Mean Streets

The chengguan system has become the most visible symptom of a…[More]

How do Chinese people live?

So, the bottom line is that Beijing is an expensive place.…[More]

Back in Action

After stagnating for 10 years, China’s SOE reform has fired up…[More]

THE HANGING DEAD

The hanging coffins of the Bo people, a Chinese ethnic minority…[More]

AMUSING

Wang Xun, an archeologist with Peking University, arranged the bones of…[More]

Trust Trip

Embarking on a three-month car journey around China without handing over…[More]

Fading Lights

For those who grew up under the bright lights of China…[More]