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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
INTERNATIONAL NARCOTICS CONTROL STRATEGY REPORT, MARCH 1996: BALTICS

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs


BALTICS

I. Summary

The drug trade is escalating in all three Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Open borders and proximity to Scandinavia offer trafficking networks alternative routes to Western European heroin markets. Central Asian and Russian crime groups have now begun to establish smuggling networks through the region and nascent money laundering operations are suspected in all three countries. Illicit amphetamines produced in Latvia continue to show up in West European markets. Health authorities in all three countries believe that while drug abuse is on the rise, it is still a relatively minor problem.

Economic and political issues continue to dominate as top priorities for the three governments, limiting high-level attention to the expanding drug problems. There are some signs that the three Baltic nations, particularly Latvia, are expanding their antidrug programs. Manpower and resource shortages continue to hamper progress towards establishing effective domestic antidrug strategies.

Only Latvia has become a party to all three UN drug conventions. Lithuania is a party to the 1961 and 1971 UN Conventions, but not the 1988 UN Convention. Estonia is not a party to any of these conventions, although the GOE has noted the need to change domestic legislation and formally accede to the international drug conventions, progress towards these goals has been slow.


ESTONIA

II. Status of Country

Drug seizures in neighboring countries, the arrest of Estonians in Thailand acting as couriers, the destruction of 50 hectares of poppy fields, and press reports of a rise in drug use, suggest worsening drug problems in Estonia. While government officials recognize that drug abuse is increasing, resources to deal with the related legal and health problems remain limited. Estonia, which regained its independence in late 1991, has not yet become party to any of the UN Conventions.

The drug trade is continuing to gain ground in Estonia. While domestic drug abuse and cultivation are still minimal, the criminal problems associated with trafficking and money laundering in Estonia are growing steadily.

Although Estonian authorities are working to strengthen border controls, Estonia's location makes it increasingly vulnerable to the drug industry. Estonian authorities indicate that drugs from Southwest Asia, Russia, Transcaucasia, Ukraine, and Lithuania are smuggled to Estonia by trucks and rail. Opium and hashish cargoes are often transferred to Estonian ships bound for Europe, particularly Scandinavia. Moreover, drug smuggling is increasing along the highway which links Estonia to Russia and Western Europe via Poland and the other Baltics. Russian and Central Asian crime groups, which often include links to Estonian groups, control much of the drug smuggling through Estonia. Estonian authorities report that drug networks from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey smuggle drugs through Estonia.

Responding to concern about possible increased domestic cultivation of opium poppy, police authorities manually eradicated a number of poppy fields. The owner of these fields claimed the cultivation was for cooking purposes and that the police did not have a warrant. This case is now in pre-trial stages.

Local police regard money laundering as the most serious drug-related problem. Drug money continues to be laundered through the buying and selling of rare metals and through the purchase of raw materials in Russia for hard currency. Because there is no effective state control over exports of essential chemicals, Estonia could be targeted by drug groups seeking such chemicals for production operations. There is little information on such operations at this time, however.

Health authorities believe that opiates are the most prevalent drug used in Estonia. The official number of drug users, including cannabis products is under 1,200.

III. Country Action Against Drugs in 1995

Policy Initiatives. The Government of Estonia (GOE) has made little progress towards designing and/or implementing an antidrug strategy. Estonia's priorities in the four years since regaining independence have been to establish national institutions while maintaining a strict budgetary discipline. A new criminal and administrative code have been in effect in Estonia since December of 1992. The UNDCP has provided expert advice and model laws, but the code still lacks many basic antidrug provisions, including chemical controls and requirements that make money laundering a crime.

Border guards are strengthening efforts to monitor the borders, including working closely with Russian border guards. After independence, the GOE created a special unit within the Central Criminal Bureau of the Estonian State Police Board to combat organized crime and drug trafficking. The police authorities intend to double the number of counternarcotics personnel -- currently only four -- in the near future. Although officers in every police prefecture are charged with responsibility for drug-related crimes, there is no body to coordinate or form a coherent strategy for the concerned law enforcement agencies and customs officials.

During 1995, 51 drug-related cases were registered. In the first half of the year, 17.5 kilograms of narcotics were seized. In previous years the number of cases averaged 40-50, with 25-30 kilograms of narcotic substances seized.

Corruption. The USG is not aware of any reports of official narcoticsrelated corruption in Estonia in 1995.

Agreements and Treaties. The GOE has not yet become a party to the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1972 Protocol, or the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The GOE's domestic antidrug laws must be modified before the GOE can ratify the 1988 UN Convention. An extradition treaty with the United States exists from 1924, but no other extradition treaties have been signed since Estonia regained its independence in 1991. Estonia has signed bilateral agreements with Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, and several of the Newly Independent States. An extradition treaty with the United States exists from 1924, and Estonia signed the European Community treaty on extradition after regaining independence in 1991.

Cultivation and Production. Although cultivation of poppy is illegal in Estonia, poppy continues to be cultivated for cooking uses and possibly for illicit opiates, according to GOE officials.

Domestic Programs. The GOE has established an inter-ministerial committee on drug control, which focuses on treating the 1,200 registered drug addicts. The largest specialized hospital for alcohol and drug treatment is in Tallinn and has 90 beds.


LATVIA

II. Status of Country

Latvia is ideally positioned to serve as a conduit for illicit narcotics traffic. Although the number of drug-related crimes in 1995 decreased in Latvia compared to 1994, authorities believe that drug smuggling operations throughout the region are expanding. Latvia boasts good ports, and is a natural path from Russia and the other Newly Independent States and northern Europe. Moreover the extensive land and rail connections established during the Soviet era offer increased smuggling opportunities now that borders are open. Police authorities indicate that poppy straw is often smuggled in from Lithuania, Ukraine, and Central Asia via land transportation. The growing role of Latvia as a conduit for international drug trafficking was highlighted in 1995 by two major criminal cases. In one case, heroin seized in Denmark had been smuggled from Thailand through Latvia, and in another hashish had been shipped through Latvia to the Netherlands.

Interior ministry and police officials confirm that the drug trade and transshipment of illegal narcotics are controlled by Latvian and Russian organized crime groups.

While most of the heroin and cocaine transiting Latvia is destined for markets in Western Europe, particularly Sweden, health authorities believe that domestic drug use is increasing. Official statistics, however, report less than 1,000 users. Latvia is primarily a transit country, but limited domestic cultivation of opium poppy also continues. Most cultivation is for cooking purposes, but criminal police indicate that some cultivation continues for local illicit consumption.

Since German and Latvian authorities discovered the illicit production of amphetamines at a state-owned pharmaceutical plant near Riga in December 1992, local police continue have not uncovered any clandestine amphetamine laboratories. While Latvia has outlawed such production, monitoring efforts have been minimal, and there have been no new cases.

Latvia is emerging as a regional banking center and officials fear it could become a drug money laundering center. Currently there are no currency reporting requirements to inhibit money laundering. Moreover, the lack of anti-money laundering legislation, the absence of strict banking accountability, and the number of banks formed under very loose regulations, make the banking industry increasingly vulnerable. In a recent case, the assets of Banka Baltija were raided by the bank's owners and top management just after the decision by the Latvian National Bank to close the bank for financial improprieties.

III. Country Action Against Drugs of 1995

Policy Initiatives. Government efforts to develop a national drug strategy or enact counternarcotics legislation have been delayed by elections and establishment of a new government. Although Latvia has become a party to the 1961, 1971 and 1988 UN Conventions, the GOL has yet to pass all the necessary legislation to implement them.

Law Enforcement. Hampered by bureaucratic problems, low salaries, and limited training and equipment, law enforcement officials were unable to make any major drug seizures in 1995. Despite these problems, international cooperative efforts by the Drug Enforcement Bureau (DEB) with a staff of 38 officers resulted in seizures elsewhere in Europe. A joint effort with the Danish police led to a seizure of heroin in Denmark and a similar effort with the Dutch police led to the dismantling of a hashish smuggling ring in the Netherlands.

Corruption. The USG is unaware of any reports of official narcoticsrelated corruption in Latvia, and there were no drug-related corruption cases of senior officials in 1995.

Agreements and Treaties. In February 1994, the GOL acceded to the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. In July 1993, the GOL acceded to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. However, the GOL's domestic antidrug law must be modified to implement the 1988 UN Convention. The GOL has prepared draft legislation to implement the U.N. Conventions which is now pending in Parliament.

U.S.- Latvian extradition relations are governed by a treaty signed in 1923. Mutual legal assistance treaty negotiations will begin early in 1996.

Cultivation and Production. Cultivation of poppy is illegal in Latvia. Nevertheless, law enforcement officials believe that there is poppy cultivation for cooking purposes and the production of illicit opium poppy straw extract. Although cannabis also grows wild in Latvia, there have been few cases of illicit cultivation.

Domestic Programs. The GOL continues to run five substance abuse centers and to finance the work of several non-governmental organizations (NGO)s in demand reduction treatment centers. Moreover a number of rehabilitation centers have been established with assistance from Western and Nordic European countries. The GOL has approved a new national demand reduction plan and allocated funds for prevention, education and information activities, with an emphasis on treatment and rehabilitation. Optional drug prevention programs have been introduced in 40 elementary schools.


LITHUANIA

II. Status of Country.

Uncertain economic circumstances, increasing criminal activity, and Lithuania's location are increasing that country's vulnerability to the drug industry. Police note that Lithuania's local organized crime groups, which currently they estimate at 200, are stepping up efforts to establish themselves in the drug trade. Reportedly, every tenth criminal gang already engaged in the trade. Lithuanian officials indicate that cocaine trafficking through the region is increasing. Modest quantities of cocaine are being smuggled through Lithuania via Germany to Russia and vice versa. Meanwhile, the regulation of Lithuania's private banking sector is still in its formative stage, leaving the banking system wide open to potential money laundering operations.

Doctors at the narcotics abuse center note that the number of officially registered drug addicts increased from 629 in 1994, to 800 in 1995. Police and medical authorities believe that the actual number may be ten to twenty times higher. Cocaine use is also becoming more popular among the wealthy community. However, the most widely used and traded illicit drugs are opiates, their derivatives, cannabis, and stimulants. In 1995, medical authorities registered 26 opium overdoses. Police authorities believe that a decrease in cannabis seizures may reflect a decrease in overall marijuana use.

III. Country Action Against Drugs in 1995

Progress on developing a national counterdrug program has been slow. The GOL established an inter-agency task force to review and draft appropriate legislation for accession to and implementation of the UN drug conventions. The parliament continues to debate the issue of police powers and banking regulation and has not yet adopted the draft legislation. However, the GOL law on commercial banking and legislation of income and asset declaration for tax purposes that was passed in 1994 helped to strengthen the legal framework for combatting the narcotics problem.

Despite severe financial constraints, Lithuania increased interdiction efforts in 1995. The criminal police has primary responsibility for implementing the country's drug enforcement programs and has assigned over 40 officers to drug-related crimes. In the first ten months of 1995, the Ministry of Interior reports that 83 drug-related cases were solved by these police and other enforcement officials. Enforcement officials also eradicated 81,152 square meters (50,312 meters in 1994) of opium poppy and 1,061 square meters of cannabis cultivation.

Corruption. The USG is unaware of any reports of official narcoticsrelated corruption in Lithuania.

Agreements and Treaties. The GOL has not become a party to the 1988 UN Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs because there is uncertainty as to whether the parliament would be able to pass legislation which would allow law enforcement officials to conduct controlled deliveries and effective investigations of suspected moneylaundering operations, in accordance with the requirements of the Convention. In 1994, Lithuania became a party to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and its 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

Cultivation and Production. Cultivation of opium poppy is illegal in Lithuania. Law enforcement officials find it difficult to enforce this ban, because of the widespread use of poppy for cooking purposes. Law enforcement officials also note that poppy is cultivated to produce illicit poppy straw extract.

Domestic Programs. The GOL has begun to establish a new health program which includes a demand reduction program. The program will include rehabilitation as well as public awareness components.

IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs

Policy Initiatives and Bilateral Cooperation. The USG continues to promote increased attention to the drug problem by the Baltic States. In 1995, the USG urged the three governments to identify drug problems, possible areas for assistance, and the need to become parties to and implement the UN drug conventions. Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian police and customs officials have received training and drug test kits from the USG.

The USG worked with other donor nations, through the Mini-Dublin group in Tallinn and bilaterally in Riga and Vilnius, to promote increased assistance from West Europeans and the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) to the Baltic nations.

The Road Ahead. Over the next year, the USG will continue to encourage the governments of Estonia and Lithuania to become parties to the 1988 UN Convention. The USG will urge all three governments to expand their drug control activities and establish legislative and institutional antidrug capabilities. The USG will encourage increased coordination of national government efforts through the development of interagency committees.

The USG plans to provide continued law enforcement training for customs and law enforcement officials including border guards, as well as training to target financial crimes. The USG will also encourage support from UNDCP to assist Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian customs and police officials by providing detection equipment and training.

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