NEWS

Operations Purple and Gold vs drugs

Operations Purple and Gold are the names of two large international operations now in the process of being developed by authorities in several countries to fight the drugs trade. They take their names from the colors of two substances used to make drugs: potassium permanganate and acetic anhydride. Beating the drug trade has become more than a matter of finding and confiscating narcotics. In recent years, efforts have focused on monitoring the distribution of 23 chemical and pharmaceutical substances used in making narcotics. These substances have come to be known as precursors. The principle behind the effort to control them is simple: no chemicals, no drugs. In Greece, customs officials are responsible for such monitoring. According to information from customs authorities, two cases connected with the illegal distribution of these precursor substances have raised the alarm. In 1998, customs officers at Krystallopigi confiscated 4,048 kilos of acetic anhydride, a substance which is used together with morphine to produce heroin. Subsequent investigations by the police found that the final destination of the cargo in question was Turkey. As an indication of the quantities of drugs involved, just 1 kilo of acetic anhydride is needed for 4,000 doses of heroin (with each dose ranging from 100-500 milligrams). The Kazarma case In April 2000, the Greek police uncovered one of the biggest synthetic amphetamine laboratories in Europe at Kazarma, Corinth. The laboratory had apparently been in operation for about two years. The amounts of chemicals and precursor substances confiscated were sufficient to produce an estimated 18 million amphetamine tablets. Customs officials say the case illustrates some of the new methods drug rings are using to circumvent police control. At this particular laboratory, the chemicals being used to make the precursor substances had passed customs control. The practice of manufacturing precursors from scratch is spreading internationally, which is why the European Union has drawn up a list of 15 substances of which distribution is monitored, though only on a voluntary basis, however. Manufacturing synthetic drugs has two advantages for drug-runners: the low cost of materials and the use of simple chemical processes for which no specially equipped laboratories are needed. Anyone who possesses the materials and expertise can make pills at home in the kitchen, and quickly dispose of the evidence if they fall under suspicion. Surveillance network Planning an effective surveillance network has proved difficult. The substances in question are legal, and widely used in the pharmaceuticals industry, cosmetics and for other everyday purposes. Voices calling for these substances to be monitored were first raised in the early 1980s. Developed countries began to express dissatisfaction at the uncontrolled influx from developing countries of chemicals which were being used to make drugs. Precursor substances started coming under some kind of control in 1988, when the Vienna Convention on the illegal distribution of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance was signed. In 1990, the EEC implemented regulation 3677, which established the foundations for a system of control of precursor substances in the European Community. Owing to the complexity of the phenomenon, Greek customs authorities share responsibility for this matter with the General State Chemical Laboratory, the National Pharmaceuticals Organization and the Financial Crimes Squad. A list has been compiled of all enterprises that sell and use such substances. Customs officials are trying to uncover the whole chain from import to distribution and ensure the substances are put to legal use. In 1998, a memorandum of agreement was drawn up with the association of Greek chemical companies. This is a reciprocal form of cooperation and information exchange on suspect deliveries and recipients of products. A cooperation network has also been established with other countries in Europe and elsewhere. Within the EU, the legality of all deliveries is ascertained before they are sent. To protect competition, if a delivery of a certain substance is forbidden by one member state, it may not be delivered by a firm in another member state. On an international level, there is a mechanism for announcing exports. In practice, this means that the source country advises authorities in the destination country, which is then able to monitor the substance’s intended destination, and can block it if necessary. A typical example of a case in which Greece was involved occurred recently. Customs officials received advice from China that a large quantity of a precursor substance was being imported into Greece. Two factors roused official suspicion: The substance is used in the chemical industry, which is not developed in Greece, and the destination was Komotini. Chinese officials were advised to block the delivery. Investigation showed that Komotini was the intermediary destination for the product, which was to be sent on to a restaurateur in Germany. The next step in securing more effective control of these substances will be the signing of a memorandum of cooperation with companies that supply equipment to chemical laboratories. Since this equipment is essential for making synthetic narcotics, monitoring its distribution will help deal with the problem. Illegal laboratories Many of the European laboratories that manufacture synthetic narcotics, chiefly ecstasy and amphetamines, have been discovered by police in the Netherlands. The Dutch have so much experience in the field, in fact, that they were called in to help deal with the Corinth drug ring. There are believed to be many more illegal labs in the Balkans. The former Eastern bloc countries which had developed chemical industries also have large numbers of unemployed scientists who find work in the drug industry. Illegal laboratories have been located in most countries. A pharmaceutical company employee in Britain who was so zealous that he continually stayed after work hours was eventually found to have been using the company’s equipment to make amphetamines. In 2002 alone, the EU confiscated the following quantities of precursors: 3,085 kilos of ephedrine (of which 1 kilo makes 2,500-21,000 doses of methamphetamine); 14,500 kilos of P2P 9, of which 1 kilo makes 2,000-50,000 doses of amphetamine); 19,280 liters of acetic anhydride, 23,034 liters of acetate (of which 1 kilo makes 100-500 doses of heroin), and 26,963 liters of ethyl ether (a liter of which makes 250-500 doses of cocaine). In addition to the organization of a network monitoring precursor substances and smooth cooperation with other states, Greece has provided other states with expertise and training in controlling prohibited substances. For instance, Greece has helped Bulgaria and Slovakia draft legislation to deal with the problem. Stricter policing The Greek police force (ELAS) is doing its best to implement the Public Order Ministry’s stated policy of bringing policing closer to the community with a series of measures which are innovative for this country. Last Thursday, prefects, mayors and community presidents from all over Greece assembled at local police stations on the invitation of administrators. The local government representatives watched as police chiefs presented the results of systematic, months-long research conducted according to scientific criteria. The police presented special action and goals for combating the drug trade in each prefecture. ELAS had spent months collecting data, writing up reports, receiving proposals and studying crime data in each area. Then it worked with local police officers to draft its crime-busting policy for the year 2002. This is the first time ELAS has taken such detailed data from each area into account. In planning action, ELAS considered a series of factors such as the geographical location of each prefecture, fluctuations in crime, the population and its composition and housing patterns. At the same time it set the following priorities for 2002: fighting narcotics, organized crime, terrorism, human trafficking for sexual exploitation, petty crime, illegal immigration and corruption; preparations for Greece’s EU presidency in 2003 and for the safe conduct of the Olympic Games in 2004. ELAS has tailor-made specialized action in accordance with these priorities and the particular features of each area. Measures for Attica Sources say that an increase of over 10 percent in some crimes – especially robbery and vehicle theft – during the first months of 2002 in Attica, has given rise to official concern. There is an obvious need for steps to be taken before this trend becomes established and negates all the efforts made over the past three years and which have shown such good results. Police action in Attica will focus on two areas. The first of these is foot patrols, which have proved extremely effective, and which will be increased and redesigned. Initially the emphasis was on patrolling areas with high levels of crime. But the presence of police patrols simply brought about a shift in criminal activity to other areas, which have since been pinpointed and will be included in the new plan. The police are also setting up a team that will study crime data so as to ascertain which areas are affected by crime. Police chiefs are focusing on activating local communities, regarded as essential in the fight against crime. They want municipalities to help create local crime-prevention councils.