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Coca cultivation hits record high in Colombia

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coca cultivation

A report published yesterday by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) revealed that cocaine production reached record levels in Colombia last year, in spite of a 2016 peace deal between the country’s government and rebel group Farc.

According to UNODC’s latest Coca Cultivation Survey Report for Colombia, land used for coca cultivation in the country reached 171,000 hectares in 2017, the highest amount observed since records began.

This represented a 17% year-on-year increase in the amount of land in the country used for coca cultivation.

Colombia now produces enough raw material to make 1,379 tons of cocaine a year, more than three times the amount it was producing five years ago.

The study found that the regions of Nariño and Tumaco remained the worst affected areas in the country, despite the fact that coca cultivation fell by 16% in Tumaco last year.

UNODC found that 80% of all coca produced in Colombia is grown in the same areas as it has been for the past decade, and that 16% of coca cultivation areas are situated fewer than seven miles away from a border, with areas close to Venezuela and Ecuador the worst affected.

Prices of fresh coca leaf, cocaine paste and cocaine hydrochloride fell by 28%, 14% and 11% respectively last year compared to 2016, suggesting that increased coca production applies downward pressure to prices.

“It is estimated that the potential production of cocaine has a value of $2.7 billion in the local market,” UNODC said in a statement.

“There are concerns that this capital, derived from the drug economy, could undermine peacebuilding efforts, weaken the culture of lawfulness, strengthen armed groups and delegitimise democratic institutions through corruption and illicit financial flows.”

Some commentators have observed that Farc’s agreement to end its involvement in coca cultivation as part of the peace deal it signed with the Colombian government two years ago left a vacuum that has been filled by ruthless organised crime gangs.

The UN’s findings will increase pressure on Colombian President Ivan Duque to resume a programme of aerial coca crop spraying that was ended by his predecessor, despite the fact that many experts have urged that only the building of infrastructure in the rural parts of the country where cocaine is mainly produced will solve the problem.

UNODC’s study broadly tallies with the findings of a US government report that estimated cocaine production rose 19% in Colombia last year.

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe, new study reveals

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe

Scotland has the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe, and fatalities linked to the consumption of substances such as heron in the country are on the rise, according to a new report from a government agency.

A statistical update from Audit Scotland on the nation’s drug and alcohol services has revealed that drug-related deaths rose to 934 in 2017, a 71% increase on the 525 people who lost their lives as a consequence of drug consumption in 2009.

Seventy-six percent of those deaths occurred in the 35 years and over age group, suggesting that drug problems are increasingly affecting older people in Scotland.

The most significant increase in drug-related deaths in this age category was recorded in people aged 45 and over, who accounted for 37% of fatalities in 2017, up from 20% of the total in 2009.

According to the update, opioids are the most problematic group of drugs, and are implicated in the majority of drug-related deaths in the country.

The study also found that while use of new psychoactive substances such as the synthetic cannabinoid Spice has declined in the general population since the introduction of the UK government’s Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, these types of drugs are still causing significant harm among vulnerable groups such as prisoners.

Commenting on the findings outlined in the update, Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: “The last decade has seen several notable achievements in drug and alcohol treatment in Scotland, including more recovery communities, improved drug harm reduction strategies and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

“But without clear performance data around what measures are working, the government will continue to find it hard to achieve its aim of reducing deaths and better supporting people to recover.”

Earlier this week, the Press Association reported that former addicts had told UK Parliament’s Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that providing users of drugs such as heroin with replacement treatments such as methadone is leaving them wandering around “like zombies”.

Former heroin addict Sharon Brand, who now runs the Recovery Dundee charity, told the committee: “There’s people who have been on methadone since they were 15, 30 years now, there’s two generations in each family who are either on methadone or a chaotic user.

“I’ve not got a great opinion of methadone. I think done right, for a very short period, it could work but I think there are a lot more and better ways to help somebody get past that stage.”

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European police forces dismantle major organised crime network that made €680 million in two years

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crime network that made €680 million

A Europol-coordinated operation involving law enforcement agencies from the UK, Spain, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia has resulted in the break-up of a sophisticated organised criminal network that is thought to have raked in hundreds of millions of euros over a two-year period.

The gang, which is said to have been made of Lithuanian nationals and members from other EU countries, made huge profits from activities including drug smuggling, cigarette trafficking, assassinations and money laundering.

Police taking part in the operation, which was codenamed Icebreaker, and is reported to have been the largest of its kind to take place in Europe to date, carried out raids on 40 properties in Poland, Lithuania and Spain, during which €8 million ($8.94 million) in cash was seized, along with high-value items including diamonds, gold bars, jewellery and luxury vehicles.

During the raids, which were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday last week, a total of 22 suspects were arrested in the UK, Poland, Lithuania and Spain, where a 48-year-old Lithuanian man was detained on suspicion of leading the network.

Investigators estimate that the gang made a profit of some €680 million as a result of its illicit activities between 2017 and 2019 alone, during which time its members are suspected to have trafficked large quantities of drugs and illicit tobacco into Britain.

The proceeds of the network’s criminal activity was laundered through currency exchange offices before being invested in properties in Spain and other countries.

According to Europol, senior members of the gang used counter-surveillance and counter-intelligence techniques, as well as specialised encrypted communication devices, in a bid to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities.

In total, more than 450 police and customs officers took part in Operation Icebreaker, with agencies contributing to the effort including Lithuania’s Criminal Police Bureau, the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Polish Police Central Bureau of Investigation, and Spain’s Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional.

In a statement, Europol said: “The creation of an Operational Task Force between all five countries and Europol in November 2018 had a catalytic effect on the scale and the intensity of the investigation, facilitating the development of a joint strategy to target the whole network. It led to carrying out one of the largest covert police operations recently against an organized crime group.

“Due to the demanding investigative measures run on an international level, Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) were set up between the cooperating countries with the assistance of Eurojust.”

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Australian terrorist financing investigation results in disruption of major cigarette smuggling conspiracy

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cigarette smuggling conspiracy

An investigation into terrorist financing conducted by law enforcement agencies in Australia has led to the arrest of eight men on suspicion of involvement in an illicit cigarette importation conspiracy run from Sydney.

The counter-terrorism operation that resulted in the men’s detention, which involved officers from the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force’s Terrorism Investigation Squad, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Australian Border Force (ABF)-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, resulted in the identification of an organised criminal gang involved in the importation of illicit tobacco, drug trafficking and money laundering.

In a statement, NSW Police said three suspects were detained on Tuesday at Sydney Olympic Park, where one man was found by officers to be carrying A$12,000 ($8,245) in cash.

After those arrests, investigators carried out a series of raids on domestic properties, business premises and storage units across Sydney’s south-west, resulting in the seizure of illicit tobacco, A$50,000 in cash and a range of luxury items, including designer watches, jewellery and handbags.

During the raids, a further six suspects were detained, and were later charged with a number of offences including membership of a criminal organisation, tobacco smuggling, money laundering and the criminal possession of more than 500kgs of tobacco.

Police believe members of the gang were responsible for the importation and sale of more than seven tonnes of illicit tobacco products, estimated to be worth in excess of A$1.8 million.

Commenting on the success of the operation, ABF Acting Regional Commander for NSW Garry Low said: “We know illicit tobacco is an attractive market for criminal syndicates due to the lucrative profits that can be made in evaded tax, and as we can see here, the profits are often channelled back into organised crime.

“Illicit tobacco costs Australia about A$600 million a year in lost revenue. The ABF, working with our law enforcement partners, will continue to do everything we can to crack down on this black market, the criminals involved in it, and prevent illicit profits being channelled back into other criminal activities.”

In May of last year, lawmakers in Australia launched a crackdown on the sale of illicit tobacco that they claimed would raise some A$3.6 billion over a four-year period.

The Australian government said the initiative was intended to prevent the sale of 864 tonnes of illicit tobacco that is estimated to slip past the country’s customs officers every year.

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