USA: Greece is a drugs gateway

Greece and Cyprus are «major money-laundering» countries, while Greece is a gateway country for the trade in illegal substances, according to the US State Department’s annual global drug report that was released on Saturday. The two states are listed among 52 countries worldwide identified in the «International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR)» for 2001 as major money-laundering countries, defined in the report as ones «whose financial institutions engage in currency transactions involving significant amounts of proceeds from international narcotics trafficking.» The report is the only comprehensive US government publication that addresses illicit drug-trafficking activities in more than 140 countries outside the United States, covering a wide range of issues, including the production and trafficking of drugs. According to the State Department, «although Greece is not a major transit country for drugs traveling to the United States, it does serve as a major transit point for drugs flowing into Western Europe.» The report underscores that, according to the Greek authorities, drug abuse and addiction continue to climb in the country as the age for first-time use drops. «Greece also has the second highest annual rate of deaths from drug overdoses in Europe,» the report notes. The US State Department declares that drug trafficking remains a significant issue for Greece, while it acknowledges that Greece is combating organized crime. «Investigations initiated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its Greek counterparts suggest that a dramatic rise has occurred in the number and size of drug-trafficking organizations operating in Greece,» the report underlines, while it stresses that «US authorities report an excellent working relationship with Greek law enforcement agencies.» In December 2000, Greece and Turkey successfully worked together with the assistance of the DEA to seize 513 kilograms of heroin, the biggest seizure in European history, the report notes. But in spite of the several highly successful law enforcement operations, the report underlines that «Greece is a major transshipment route to Western Europe for heroin from Turkey, hashish from the Middle East, and heroin and marijuana from southwest Asia. Metric ton quantities of marijuana and smaller quantities of other drugs are smuggled across the borders from Albania, Bulgaria, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).» According to the State Department, marijuana has been smuggled into Greece on pack mules across the mountainous border with Albania, while hashish is off-loaded in remote areas of the country and transported to Western Europe by boat or overland. «Larger shipments are smuggled into Greece in shipping containers, on TIR trucks, in automobiles, on trains, and in buses. Such trucks typically enter Greece via Turkish border crossings, then cross the Adriatic by ferry to Italy,» the report says. Moreover, the State Department reports that Nigerian drug rings smuggle heroin and cocaine through Athens airport, and increasingly through the Aegean islands from Turkey. Cocaine is also transported via Greece to other parts of Europe, according to the report, while it stresses that «Greece is not a significant source country for illicit drug production, though shipments of anabolic steroids to the United States do occur an a small scale.» Balkan routes The State Department appears particularly concerned about the trafficking of drugs to Western countries through what has come to be known as the «Balkans Route,» an unguarded corridor linking most countries in southeast Europe. «Heroin is typically routed through the ‘Balkans Route’ of Turkey-Bulgaria-FYROM-Albania, and then Italy and Greece,» the report notes. For the State Department, drug trafficking is a «significant issue» for Albania, stressing that «organized crime organizations use Albania as a transit point for drug and other types of smuggling due to its strategic location, weak police and judicial systems and lax border controls. The most common illegal drugs are heroin, cocaine, and marijuana.» According to the report, cocaine is smuggled by air from the United States and South America, passing through Albania on the way to Western Europe. «The government of Albania, largely in response to international pressure and with international assistance, is in the early stages of attempting to confront criminal elements and corruption in Albania,» the State Department states in its report. Albanian authorities report that in 2001, police arrested 353 persons for drug trafficking, all but four of whom were Albanian nationals. In addition, the police seized 4.5 kilograms of heroin, 266 grams of cocaine, 6,915 kilograms of marijuana, 600 grams of cannabis seeds, 2.8 kilograms of red poppy seeds, and 1.3 liters of methadone. The State Department underlines that «cannabis is the only drug grown and produced in Albania, and is typically bound for consumption or sale in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, and Italy.» Although there are no official estimates on crop sizes and yields, Albanian counternarcotics authorities estimate that police destroyed more than 281,000 marijuana plants in 2001 in 129 locations throughout Albania. The report also cites deep-rooted corruption in Albanian law enforcement agencies and the judicial system. «Corruption remains a deeply entrenched problem. While the government of Albania acts officially to combat drug trafficking, press reports have implicated government officials in smuggling operations,» the report notes. «Corruption among police and magistrates hampers efforts to crack down on drug distribution, though distribution is less of a problem than transit of illegal narcotics for international trafficking.» Hard realities Other countries of concern to the United States in southeast Europe are Turkey, identified by the State Department as an important transit route for southwest Asian opiates moving to Europe, Bulgaria, Croatia and FYROM, countries situated on the Balkan Route, Bosnia and Herzegovina, an area which has emerged as a regional hub for narcotics transshipment, as well as Romania and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) which serve as transit countries for drugs funneled to Europe from southwest and western Asia. With respect to Turkey, the State Department notes that its geographical position makes it a major transshipment point for heroin passing from southwest Asia to Europe. «It is also an operational base for major international drug organizations involved in drug smuggling, drug production, and drug trafficking, as well as drug-related money laundering,» the report declares regarding Turkey. «While most of the heroin trafficked via Turkey is marketed in Western European countries, some also finds its way to the United States.» The State Department declares that there is no clear evidence that the heroin that enters the United States from Turkey is an amount that has had a significant effect on the United States. War-torn countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, FRY and FYROM, are countries of concern for the United States, as they lack the means to effectively tackle emerging problems of drug trafficking within their borders. Bosnia and Herzegovina, according to the report, remains a small but growing market for drug consumption, and has emerged as a regional hub for narcotics transshipment. «Despite increasing law enforcement cooperation, gradual improvements in oversight of the financial sector, and several drug seizures, local authorities are still politically divided, law enforcement efforts still poorly coordinated, and the justice system still antiquated and inadequate,» the State Department declares. The State Department also says that increased drug trafficking to and from Kosovo in 2000 and 2001 probably indicated both that province’s increased importance as a market and as a transit point. As for the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the State Department notes that it remains a transit country for illegal drugs moving along the Balkan Route from western Asia to Europe and beyond. «Ten years of economic sanctions and political isolation have created an enforcement gap that the drug trade has been able to exploit. A lack of funds and modern equipment severely hinders proper monitoring of goods transiting the FRY,» the report declares.

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