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U.S. Department of State
1997 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, March 1998

United States Department of State

Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs


Europe and Central Asia

AUSTRIA

I. Summary

Austria is primarily a transit country for drug traffic from the Balkans to Western European markets. Illegal drug consumption is not a severe problem in Austria, and there is no significant production or cultivation of illegal substances. A new Narcotic Substances Act passed in mid-1997 maintains severe penalties for drug dealers while aiming at therapy rather than punishment for minor drug consumption. Passage of this law enabled Austria to ratify the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and 1988 UN Drug Convention in 1997. Austria remains an attractive site for drug-related money laundering, although the government continues to implement measures to narrow avenues for money launderers and facilitate asset seizure and forfeiture. New legislation allowing the use of better electronic tools to investigate drug-related crimes is expected to help contain the growth in foreign-based drug crimes. Austrian law enforcement authorities charged with combatting narcotics continue to face a lack of adequate funds and personnel as a result of overall government spending cuts aimed at reducing the deficit.

II. Status of Country

While Austria is not a significant producer of illicit drugs, foreign-based organized crime, including drug activity, continues to grow in Austria. While Austria has taken a number of commendable measures over the last few years to address money laundering, all of its efforts are overshadowed by the continued availability of anonymous passbook accounts. Austria passed legislation in 1996 to abolish the opening of new anonymous securities accounts; separate legislation, passed in 1997, will expedite extraditions as well as confiscation of property and assets arising from illegal activities.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

Policy Initiatives. The new Narcotic Substances Act, to become effective on January 1, 1998, focuses on therapy for drug users while maintaining severe penalties for drug dealers. Drug dealers may face up to 20 years in prison, while first-time users of cannabis may avoid criminal proceedings if they agree to therapy. The new law, which prepared the ground for ratification of the 1971 and 1988 UN Conventions by the government in fall 1997, provides penal provisions for those substances listed in Annexes III and IV of the UN Psychotropic Substances Convention of 1971 and the precursor substances of Annexes I and II of the 1988 UN Convention, which until then were not covered by existing legislation.

On October 1997, legislation went into effect to provide investigators with expanded powers to use wiretapping, electronic merging of data banks, and witness protection programs. Other new regulations implemented in 1997 improve the government's capabilities in asset seizure and forfeiture, as well as expedite extradition and expand judicial assistance.

Accomplishments. In addition to making major revisions to its drug laws in 1997, Austria continued to participate in the EU's Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA). In 1997, Austria joined the EU's Drug Prevention Program and is currently working to implement the EU-wide early warning mechanism for synthetic drugs. The second annual country report on the drug situation in Austria was completed in November 1997. The new report provides drug-related data, discusses the effects of the new narcotics law, presents further initiatives for demand reduction, and addresses the on-going structural reorganization of the country's organizations dealing with drug issues, such as establishment of a central national coordination structure.

Law Enforcement Efforts. The number of drug-related criminal offenses in Austria increased by 23.7 percent to 16,196 in 1996. Authorities believe that one out of two criminal offenses is drug-related. Although data for 1997 are not yet available, law enforcement officials expect a further rise of those figures.

The number of seizures rose by 21 percent compared to 1995. In 1996, there were 4,838 seizures of various forms of cannabis totalling 517 kilograms, 19 seizures of poppy straw totalling 8.6 kilograms, 17 seizures of raw opium totalling 1,103 kilograms, 1,110 seizures of heroin totalling 81 kilograms; 525 seizures of cocaine totalling 72 kilograms, 102 seizures of LSD totalling 4,166 trips, and 254 seizures of Ecstasy totalling 25,118 doses.

A major narcotics case prosecuted in the US in 1996 with the cooperation of Austrian authorities resulted in four sentences passed in 1997 ranging from twelve years to life imprisonment.

Corruption. The GOA has generally applicable public corruption laws. The US Government is not aware of any high-level Austrian government officials' involvement in drug-related corruption.

Agreements and Treaties. The US-Austrian Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, signed in 1995, was approved by the Austrian government and sent to Parliament for ratification in November 1997. A new US-Austrian Extradition Treaty was signed on January 8, 1998, in Washington. The new Treaty replaces one of 1930, and its supplement of 1934.

In 1997, Austria ratified the 1988 UN Drug Convention, and acceded to the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the Council of Europe Convention. Austria expects to ratify the Europol Convention in Spring 1998.

Austria is a party to the 1961 Single Convention and its 1972 Protocol. Austria is a party to the WCO's International Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance for the Prevention, Investigation, and Repression of Customs Offences "Nairobi Convention" Annex X on Assistance in Narcotics Cases. The United States Government has concluded a Customs Mutual Assistance Agreement (CMAA) with the Government of Austria. Bilateral counternarcotics agreements are in place with Hungary, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. Similar agreements are planned with various NIS countries.

Vienna is the seat of UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP), and Austria is a UNDCP major donor. Austria participates in World Health Organization (WHO), the Dublin Group within the European Union (EU), the Financial Action Task Force on money laundering (FATF), and the Council of Europe's "Pompidou Group."

Austria is a member of the "Narcotics Work Group," in Wiesbaden, Germany, the "Work Group Southeast," in Bavaria, and the "Work Group Southwest," in Baden-Wuertemberg, Germany.

Cultivation/Production. The US government is not aware of any significant cultivation or production of illicit drugs in Austria. Although the Health Ministry reports that some home growing of cannabis exists, no figures for such cultivation are available.

Drug Flow/Transit. Various routes of the Balkan drug path remain the major avenues for illegal import/transit of Southwest Asian heroin through Austria. In a new development in 1997, drugs have been transported back along the same route. This leads investigators to believe that drug dealers on both ends of the route have closed ranks. The illicit trade is dominated by Turkish groups, followed by traffickers from countries of the former Yugoslavia. Romanian and Bulgarian nationals have become increasingly active. Macedonian and Albanian dealers continue to use nearby Bratislava, Slovakia as a temporary depository for heroin.

Demand Reduction. Austrian authorities tend to address drug addiction as a disease, a fact reflected in latest legislation and in court decisions. Demand reduction puts emphasis on primary prevention, drug treatment and counseling, as well as on "harm reduction." Legislators in 1997 opposed individual calls to allow heroin for therapeutic purposes, although Austria's westernmost province is considering a research project on the adminstration of heroin for medical purposes.

Primary intervention encompasses the pre-school through secondary school levels, and includes information kits and videos, as well as extracurricular youth counselling, educational campaigns via mass media, telephone services, and community programs such as drug-free discotheques. Austria has started various measures for HIV prevention, including syringe exchange programs, distribution of free condoms, AIDS counseling, and free AIDS testing. Substitution programs have been in place for over a decade.

Drug intervention policies are highly decentralized. Each of Austria's nine provinces employs a drug coordinator (responsible for policy decisions) and a drug commissioner (responsible for health-related aspects). Nevertheless, most drug treatment, counseling, and prevention services continue to be provided by NGOs. During 1997, the domestic drug problem was highlighted by separate convictions of three prominent Austrians (a ski jumping champion, a pop singer, and a TV sports anchorman) for illegal consumption of cocaine.

IV. US Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. Although Austria has no specific bilateral narcotics agreement with the US, Austrian cooperation with US investigative efforts is excellent. Austrian law enforcement officials participated in a September 1997 seminar organized in Vienna by the US Department of Justice on asset seizure and forfeiture.

The Road Ahead. The US will continue to support Austrian efforts to create more effective tools for law enforcement, as well as to work with Austria within the context of US-EU initiatives. The US will seek to increase cooperation with Austria on narcotics issues as Austria assumes the presidency of the European Union in the second half of 1998. Promoting among Austrian officials a better understanding of US drug policy will remain a priority.

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