Japanese customs last year seized a smaller amount of stimulants and other illegal drugs that were smuggled into Japan but impounded a record amount of banned substances packaged in capsules, the Finance Ministry said in a report Thursday.

By weight, the amount of illegal drugs seized in 2002 came to 918 kg, down 11 percent from a year earlier but still the fourth-highest total on record, while the number of Ecstasy and other stimulant capsules impounded rose to a record 172,000.

Ecstasy is the street name for a category of encapsulated stimulants made from the chemical compound MDMA. For statistical purposes, the encapsulated stimulants are not included in illegal substances that were smuggled in noncapsule forms, the ministry said.

Finance Ministry officials put the estimated street value of impounded drugs in noncapsule form at 29.9 billion yen.

The Finance Ministry said North Korea was the principal source of impounded stimulants, accounting for 151 kg of the stimulants seized.

Customs authorities have seized a total of 1.23 tons of stimulants from North Korea in the past five years. The biggest catch so far was in 1999, when customs seized 665 kg of stimulants from that country.

Finance Ministry officials said China is another major source of stimulants sold in Japan, but only 18 kg were seized on the way in from that country last year.

The release of the drug confiscation report was timed to coincide with a meeting of top customs officials in Tokyo.

“With the spread of drug abuse, particularly among young people, large-scale confiscation continues to be an unmistakable trend,” ministry officials said.

Of the 918 kg of illegal drugs confiscated last year, stimulants accounted for 408 kg, roughly twice the amount seized in 2001. Cannabis seizures totaled 476 kg, heroin 19 kg and cocaine 14 kg.

The ministry said drug-smuggling methods have become increasingly elaborate.

Last year, airport security personnel were implicated in smuggling drugs to Japan, and cannabis was found hidden inside folk-craft drums.

There were 18 cases of Japanese tourists who tried to smuggle swallowed cannabis resin.

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