The Spanish Guardia Civil and the Austrian Federal Police, supported by Europol, have dismantled a criminal network producing and distributing synthetic drugs worldwide, known as new psychoactive substances (NPS), on the Darknet. The criminal group was also involved in money laundering their share of the profits by selling cryptocurrencies, mainly Bitcoins. More than €4,500,000 in Bitcoins, IOTA and lumen was seized by law enforcement authorities.
Over 100 different types of NPS were seized in two laboratories in the provinces of Granada and Valencia in Spain, whose market value would exceed EUR 12 million. Nearly 800 000 doses of LSD were confiscated, marking the biggest ever haul of this type of substance and derivatives in the European Union (EU). Europol supported the action day with two mobile offices in Spain and Austria. Analytical support was provided during the whole operation.
- Eight arrested (of Spanish, Austrian and French nationality) accused of drug trafficking, money laundering and membership of a criminal organisation;
- six house searches in Spain (Granada, Valencia and Madrid) and one house search in Austria;
- two synthetic drug laboratories dismantled;
- overall EUR 8 million seized;
- cryptocurrencies: BTC 510 (€5,508,000), IOTA worth €137, 000 and lumen worth €30,000;
- €1.6 million seized from an Austrian bank account;
- €700,000 in cash confiscated in Spain;
- three real estate properties seized with a value close to €1m, and;
- ten luxury vehicles impounded.
Synthetic drugs sold in the Darknet and shipped by post
The organized crime group had been operating in Spain since 2012 and imported the raw material to make the psychoactive substances from Asian countries, mainly China. The organization installed a laboratory in Amsterdam, which served as the production unit of the synthetic drugs. From this laboratory the narcotic substances were shipped to two other laboratories in Spain (Granada and Valencia), which were directly managed by the organization and where the drugs were packaged and distributed to the final consumer.
Packages and postal envelopes were sent to more than 100 different countries, containing narcotic substances camouflaged as other legal products, such as additives for cement. Among the substances that were distributed were more than 100 different types of NPS: synthetic cannabinoids, depressants, dissociatives, stimulants such as amphetamines or cathinones, nootropics, psychedelics and synthetic opiates, the latter a grave problem in developed countries like the USA.
The organized crime group offered the synthetic drugs exclusively through Darknet webpages where access was restricted to previously invited users redirected from forums. Two of the webpages managed by the organization enjoyed a great reputation, being the most known and exclusive worldwide in this field.
Big business on the Darknet
Drug trafficking is big business, bringing in a fifth of all profits from organized crime. The market for synthetic drugs runs into the billions of euros each year and the sophistication of producers and traffickers continues to rise. Over the last decade, illegal online markets have changed how drugs are bought and sold. Criminal activity on the Darknet has become more innovative and more difficult to predict. Darknet markets provide a largely anonymous platform for trading in a range of illicit goods and services. It is estimated that around two thirds of the offers on Darknet markets are drug-related.
Fighting illicit Darknet markets
Illicit trade on Darknet markets is one sign of the increasingly complex nature of transnational organised crime in the EU. In 2017 Europol and the EU drugs agency EMCDDA published Drugs and the Darknet: perspectives for enforcement, research and policy, a report which presents the latest understanding of how Darknet markets function, the threats they pose to health and security and how Europe can respond.
According to the report, market disruption should form part of a broader, more integrated set of measures implemented as part of an overall strategy to address drug trade in the Darknet ecosystem. Darknet investigation teams modelled and promoted by Europol will be at the heart of such an integrated strategy. Engagement with key industries (e.g. information technology, social media, payment and product distribution services) will be increasingly important for identifying and responding to new threats in this area.
Demystifying the drug menace: Insights from convicted drug sellers
Recent and ongoing issue pertaining to narcotic drug usage and drug selling in Indian Film Industry has caught the attention of entire South East Asia. One recent report written by Gan in American Journal of Preventive Medicine indicates that the cost of drug abuse is more than $740 billion annually, writes Indian Institute of Management-Rohtak Director Professor Dheeraj Sharma.
Substance abuse results in additional burden on healthcare costs, crimes, and lost productivity. In last decade, India has witnessed several instances of increased availability of drugs and increased number of arrest, trials, and conviction under the Indian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
Given the paucity of studies related to illegal drugs and drugs selling in India, an effort was undertaken by the author with his research team that was involved in jail related projects from 2011 to 2016 in various states, to examine the issue of illegal drugs and drugs selling from the perspective of those either convicted of such offenses. Data for the survey were collected from convicted drug peddlers across three states in India – Punjab, Gujarat, and Delhi.
They were repeatedly assured that their responses for this survey shall remain anonymous and confidential. Data were collected by a team of research associates trained in the local language of the state. Brislin protocol using back translation was followed to translate the questionnaire. A total of 872 responses were collected across the three states in India. All these 872 were convicted under Indian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. The participation for the survey was voluntary.
The results indicated many counter-intuitive insights. First, 78.10% of drug peddlers reported that they used to consume drugs and selling of drugs was limited to those amongst their friends and family. Of these, around 56.54% of respondents became drug peddlers as a result of being a regular drug user. A majority of the respondents (86.70%) argued that they were trapped into drug trafficking by their drug suppliers with whom they had frequent interaction owing their consumption habits. The survey questionnaire also included questions on understanding the nature of the drug trade. 77.06% of the respondents asserted that drugs are not indigenous and most of the drugs are brought from other countries. 81.88% also reported that the drugs they used to sell were routed to India from other foreign countries.
The peddlers were also asked to give inputs relating to the country they think the drugs are infiltrated in India. Majority of the drug peddlers (83.94%) reported that the drugs are infiltrated in India from Pakistan. This was followed by Nepal (5.05%), and Afghanistan (4.24%). The detailed distribution of the countries is shown in the graph below. Similarly, we also asked them to report how drug suppliers operate and were asked to rank them based on the frequency of the method used.
For our analysis, we considered the mean ratings of all the respondents to rank the modus operandi of drug peddlers in India. The results show that cross border transactions are the most common form of operation. This is followed by tourists, Illegal, college students, and business people. The most favorable place to sell drugs according to the respondents were (ranked from best to worst): 1 = Pubs and Bars, 2 = Restaurants and hotels, 3 = Colleges and Universities, 4 = Drug rehab centers, 5 = schools.
The drug peddlers were also asked questions pertaining to the profitability of the drug trade. Almost the majority of the respondents reported that on an average a profit of more than 10 lakhs is reaped from selling drugs worth INR 1 lakh. It demonstrates that the drug trade has a profitability of more than 1000 percentage. Lastly, two questions pertaining to the society and drugs were also asked. More than 85% of the respondents (86.12%) believed that music that promotes drugs has increased the drug consumption among the youth.
They contended that consumption of drugs was accompanied by music that talked about drug use and absurdity of life. On a similar note, 79.36 percent believed that Bollywood movies that glorify drugs has resulted in an increased intention to consume drugs. Specifically, the respondents reported that almost all of their clients and they themselves were trying to imitate some actor/actress from Bollywood and that drugs would result in them feeling confident about themselves. On measurement scale for self-esteem, most respondents reported very low self-esteem (scale of 1 to 7 average score was 2.4).
The study does provide some insights from the perspective of those convicted in the illegal drug related cases. Consequently, it may be useful to counsel individual at early age, particularly in schools about the menace of drug abuse. Also, health facilities and provision of rehabilitation must be strengthened. Given that some Bollywood movies play a role in glorification of consumption and trade of illegal drugs, akin to the warning that is delayed for cigarette smoking in movies, there needs to be similar warning when characters are shown consuming drugs.
In other words, the viewers should warned of penalties that arise from consumption and trade of drugs. More specifically, random drug tests in institutions could be instituted. Also, given that majority of the drugs are infiltrated from neighboring countries, the border deterrence could be enhanced. Further, college students and pubs are the most common target consumer segment for drug peddlers. Hence, the administrators of academic institutions should take appropriate measures and test for drug abuse.
Also, pubs should be regulated. Finally, given that drugs are a lucrative trade, it is likely to see more prevalence in places where there is wealth. Hence, metropolitan cities need to develop special units or strengthen the existing special units for dealing with illegal drug cases.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not reflect the opinions of EU Reporter.
Fight against illicit drugs: Launch of the European Drug Report 2020
On 22 September, Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson participated in the virtual launch of the European Drug Report 2020, together with Laura d'Arrigo, chairwoman of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction's Management Board, and the Agency's Director Alexis Goosdeel.
Promoting our European Way of Life Vice President Margaritis Schinas said: “Organized crime groups quickly adapted their drugs operations to the new situation brought by the coronavirus pandemic. Under the Security Union Strategy, we are working to reduce both the demand and supply of illicit drugs.”
Commissioner Johansson said: "The high levels of cocaine and heroin seized show that criminals continue exploiting supply chains, shipping routes and large ports to traffic drugs, threatening the health and security of those living in Europe. Modern organized crime needs a modern organized response. This is why we are working with our European Agencies to dismantle drug trafficking networks and disrupt production while improving prevention and access to treatment.”
The European Drug Report analyses recent drug use and market trends across the EU, Turkey and Norway. This year's report shows an increase in cocaine availability with seizures at a record high amounting to 181 tonnes, an almost doubling of heroin seizures to 9.7 tonnes and high availability of high purity drugs in the EU.
It also explores the appearance of novel synthetic opioids, of particular health concern and addresses the challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The report itself is available online, together with a full press release by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.
European Commission secures EU access to #Remdesivir for treatment of #COVID-19
On 28 July, the European Commission signed a contract with the pharmaceutical company Gilead to secure treatment doses of Veklury, the brand name for Remdesivir. As from early August onwards, and in order to meet immediate needs, batches of Veklury will be made available to member states and the UK, with the coordination and support of the Commission. The Commission's Emergency Support Instrument will finance the contract, worth a total of €63 million.
This will ensure the treatment of approximately 30,000 patients presenting severe COVID-19 symptoms. This will help to cover the current needs over the next few months, while ensuring a fair distribution at EU level, based on an allocation key, taking into account the advice from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
The Commission is now also preparing a joint procurement for further supplies of the medicine, expected to cover additional needs and supplies as from October onwards. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “In recent weeks, the Commission has been working tirelessly with Gilead to reach an agreement to ensure that stocks of the first treatment authorised against COVID-19 are delivered to the EU. A contract has been signed yesterday, less than a month after the authorization of Remdesivir, which will allow the delivery of treatments from early August for thousands of patients. The Commission is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to secure access to safe and efficient treatments, and is supporting the development of vaccines against coronavirus. Yesterday's agreement is another important step forward in our fight to overcome this disease.”
A press release is available online.
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