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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

LATVIA

I. Summary

Drug trafficking and abuse are not yet major problems in Latvia--but they could become so. The country's favorable geographic location, its highly developed transportation routes and its vulnerability to organized crime groups makes it an attractive target for narcotics traffickers. The Latvian government is aware of these dangers and is taking steps to combat them. Latvia is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, has drafted a counternarcotics masterplan and enacted laws in support of the UN Convention, though budgetary constraints are slowing implementation and effective enforcement. Nevertheless, through USG, UNDCP and EU Phare assistance, the Latvian government continues to move toward achievement of these objectives.

II. Status of Country

Drug production is not a significant problem in Latvia. There is some production of opium poppy on small private plots, mainly for culinary purposes, though there have been incidences of opium and cannabis production for sales to addicts and small-scale drug dealers. There is also small-scale production of amphetamines, ephedrine and Ecstasy in Latvia--in part a by-product of the relatively large numbers of highly-trained but underemployed chemists in the country.

Narcotics trafficking is a more serious problem. Latvia's geographic location at the crossroads of the CIS countries and western Europe makes it a natural transit route for trade in narcotics. The movement of opiates from central and southwest Asia through Latvia to Europe and the Nordic countries, and of small quantities of cocaine, synthetic drugs and psychotropic substances from western Europe through Latvia to the CIS states is on the rise. Police have found small amounts of heroin in private vehicles traveling to Latvia from The Netherlands, and they are investigating reports of heroin available in certain markets in Riga. Latvia's well-established transport structures, including rail, sea and land, and the presence of entrenched organized crime groups in the country, make it likely that the trafficking problem will grow.

Drug addiction is not yet a major problem, though the Government of Latvia (GOL) is concerned at the upward trend in narcotics use. The Latvian police report that the number of addicts registered with law enforcement agencies has increased from 2380 in 1992 to 6000 in 1997. They concede, however, that the latter figure is probably too low. The most commonly used drugs in Latvia are poppy extracts produced privately with primitive chemical processes. As contacts with Europe have grown and Latvia's urban population has become more affluent, designer drugs from the West have gained in popularity. Drug-related crimes in Latvia increased from 205 in 1992 to 363 in 1996.

III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 1997

Policy Initiatives. Latvia is party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention and the GOL has drafted the basic framework for a comprehensive narcotics masterplan and is putting into place the legislative structure to support the Convention. In coordination with the UNDCP field office in Riga, the Latvian Ministry of Interior has developed a drug law enforcement strategy plan for 1997-99, a key step towards finalizing a comprehensive national drug control plan. Budgetary constraints are hampering rapid completion of this work, but it is still likely that the plan will be put into effect in 1998.

The GOL has also made progress in strengthening Latvia's legal framework against narcotics abuse and trafficking. In May 1996, the Saeima (Parliament) passed legislation on precursors and the control of licit narcotics and psychotropic substances and established an interagency Narcotics Coordination Commission at the ministerial level. The Commission is in the process of revamping national narcotics legislation and was instrumental in moving the GOL to submit a law on money laundering to the Parliament in early 1997. Currently, the money laundering bill has passed the second of three readings in the Parliament and is undergoing further amendment to strengthen penalties for money launderers. In 1996, the GOL publicly committed to combating money laundering by signing the "Riga Declaration" at a conference co-hosted by the UNDCP and the European Commission.

Law Enforcement Efforts. Enforcement of drug policy in Latvia rests with the Drug Enforcement Office (DEO) which was created in 1994. The DEO's responsibilities include regulation of chemical and pharmaceutical organizations; supervision of transit agencies, including airports, seaports and railways; training; and regional oversight. Although the DEO has achieved some positive results, its efforts are strapped by inadequate budgetary resources. It has insufficient personnel and resources to adequately train police counternarcotics units or the Latvian border guards and Customs officials along major transit routes. The result is that Latvia is not sufficiently prepared to control trafficking across its borders.

In addition to the DEO, the GOL has established a National Narcotics Control Board for licit drug control, which has broad responsibilities but is severely understaffed. Furthermore, in November 1997, the Riga city criminal police launched a special unit to combat drug abuse and trafficking.

According to Latvian Ministry of Interior statistics, the Drug Enforcement Office arrested 176 persons during the first nine months of 1997 for purchase, possession, use and sale of illegal drugs. The DEO also uncovered three illegal drug laboratories in 1996-97 and instigated four criminal cases against drug traffickers. In 1997, the amount of psychotropic substances seized increased rapidly, some in connection with deliveries of such substances into prison facilities.

Corruption. The USG does not know of any drug-related corruption in the Government of Latvia.

Agreements and Treaties. In June 1997, the US and Latvia signed a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty designed to strengthen cooperation against drug trafficking, money-laundering and transnational crime. This treaty entered into provisional force via the exchange of diplomatic notes providing ratification. In addition, there is a 1924 extradition treaty in force between Latvia and the United States. The United States hopes to negotiate an updated, modern extradition treaty with Latvia in the near future.

Latvia receives considerable assistance from the USG, the UNDCP, the EU Phare program and other major donors to strengthen its counternarcotics capacities. (The EU Phare Multi-Country programme for the Fight Against Drugs seeks to strengthen the anti-drug capacities of 11 Central and Eastern European states and to assist those states in preparing for a role in EU's anti-drug strategy plan.) The US Embassy in Riga participates in meetings of the Riga branch of the Dublin Group, which seeks to coordinate the efforts of foreign donors, including the US, the EU, UNDCP and other European countries to work with the GOL to identify priorities for counternarcotics work and prevent duplication of assistance efforts. The Embassy also works closely with the UNDCP field office in Riga. The current UNDCP program allots $830,000 to Latvia for three on-going projects: a drug treatment center at Rindzele; development of drug control strategies; and assistance to law enforcement capabilities such as drug testing laboratories and drug sniffing dogs. UNDCP also provides grants to NGOs working in the drug prevention area.

Domestic Programs. In terms of demand reduction, Latvian authorities organized two seminars in cooperation with PHARE for teachers and prison managers, and participated in strategy planning workshops on drug prevention treatment organized by the UNDCP.

IV. US Policy Initiatives and Programs

Bilateral Cooperation. The USG has worked closely with the GOL in the counternarcotics sphere. In FY97, the FBI opened a regional office for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia based in Tallinn to provide practical assistance to law enforcement agencies, including efforts to combat narcotics. The American Embassy in Riga maintains a law enforcement working group, chaired by the Deputy Chief of Mission, which coordinates activities with Latvia's Crime Prevention Committee, chaired by Prime Minister Krasts. The resident Department of Justice legal advisor provides focused expertise directly to the Prime Minister and the Procurator General aimed at strengthening Latvia's legal framework, assisting the judiciary's effectiveness and fostering closer cooperation among Latvia's various law enforcement agencies.

In FY97, the USG provided Latvia with over $500,000 in SEED funds for law enforcement-related training, including DEA-supervised seminars on narcotics crime detection and FBI courses on money-laundering and drug trafficking. The US Coast Guard also conducted counternarcotics training for Latvian counterparts and the US Customs service worked with Latvian border guard, police and customs units on cross-border anti-smuggling techniques. In July 1997, the USG, using INL funding, provided the Latvian Interior Ministry with some 4000 drug detection kits.

The Road Ahead. Over the next year, the USG will encourage and support five central priorities for future efforts to combat drug abuse and narcotics trafficking in Latvia: a) strengthen Latvia's legal and institutional law enforcement infrastructures; b) enhance practical cooperation with Latvian law enforcement agencies; c) promote public education and awareness of crime and narcotics issues; d) strengthen border control, including narcotics suppression initiatives, especially on Latvia's eastern border; and e) use USG assistance programs to leverage those of other foreign donors.

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