International Drug News

Hyde Blasts Delays In Planning Anti-Drug Raids In Colombia.  The Washington Times (7/29, Gertz, Scarborough) reports in its “Inside the Ring” column, “The US Embassy in Bogotá requires 72 hours of planning before approving US air assets to help in a search for high-value narco-terrorists in Colombia.  House International Relations Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde is infuriated by the bureaucratic delay in the long war between Colombian government troops and the ruthless Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).  ‘We have heard time and time again about these concerns from the Colombian government at many levels,’ the Illinois Republican wrote in a July 19 letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. ‘I urge a timely resolution of these problems before we lose the momentum responsible for the tremendous progress we have made in Colombia.’”

Marxist Rebel Attacks Brings Colombian Province To Virtual Standstill.  Reuters (7/29, Webb) reports, “Marxist rebel attacks have brought a southern Colombian province to a virtual standstill, leading President Alvaro Uribe to promise to move his government there if necessary to restore order. In the past week, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia have blown up a bridge, knocked over electricity towers and ambushed military convoys in the jungle province of Putumayo, which is 10,000 square miles (25,000 square km) or almost as big as Belgium.  Gasoline prices have soared because truck drivers are too scared to venture onto its lonely highways.  ‘I’m not going to leave Putumayo alone.  If necessary, I’ll move my government here while security is restored,’ said Uribe after leaving an emergency meeting in the province’s capital Mocoa on Wednesday evening.  He then headed back to Bogotá.”

UN Launches Criminal Justice Task Force In Afghanistan.  The AP (7/29, Lovering) reports, “A team of anti-drug investigators, lawyers and judges will start prosecuting major narcotics cases in Afghanistan – the world’s largest opium and heroin producer – as part of a new UN program launched Thursday.  The Criminal Justice Task Force, which includes 36 investigators, 33 prosecutors and 15 judges – all Afghans – will assist in the arrest and trial of serious drug offenders, said Elizabeth Bayere, a spokeswoman for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.  The mission of the team, which will operate under Afghanistan’s Counternarcotics Ministry, is to establish a justice system that can efficiently prosecute large-scale drug cases, Bayere said.”  The AP adds, “The program is funded by Britain, Canada and Belgium, while the United States has given additional support, the UNODC said in a statement.”

Bolivian Coca Farmers Seen As Using Instability To Expand Areas Under Cultivation.  The Washington Times (7/29, Arostegui) reports, “A peasant-led political revolt that has toppled two Bolivian presidents in as many years is in large part inspired by coca farmers who have used the instability to vastly expand the areas under cultivation and exports to the United States and Europe.  In a move to placate unions of coca growers who had been besieging the capital, La Paz, and other main cities of Bolivia, the country’s most recently sworn-in president, Eduardo Rodriguez, met with leaders of coca-growing syndicates immediately upon taking office last month.  ‘We discussed the suspension of coca-leaf eradication,’ said Evo Morales, leader of the Movement to Socialism party (MAS), which is backed by cocaine-producing interests and took part in the meeting held in the presidential palace.  He called it a ‘victory’ for coca farmers.”  The Times adds, “MAS, which organized a recent round of national protests that toppled President Carlos Mesa and gets 20 percent of the national vote, was described by a high-level US government source in La Paz as a ‘syndicate of coca growers.’  [DEA] officials in Washington referred questions on the matter to the State Department, where a spokesman said coca production is ‘one of the key issues’ in the US-Bolivia relationship.  A spokesman for the US Embassy in La Paz said, ‘We trust that the Bolivian government will abide by past agreements to eliminate [15,000 acres] of illegal coca.’  A top Bolivian presidential aide said the government was ‘abiding by existing agreements with both the international community and with the coca farmers.’  Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he called the curtailment of coca-leaf eradication a ‘temporary measure’ aimed at restoring normalcy after weeks of popular upheavals had paralyzed the country.”

Australian Report Finds Soaring Ecstasy Use Among Young Adults.  The Sydney Morning Herald (7/29, Maley) reports, “Ecstasy is more popular than ever before, with new research showing one in five Australians in their early 20s has used the party drug, making it more prevalent in Australia than in any other English-speaking country.  A new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare paints the most comprehensive picture of Australians’ drug use in three years.  The good news is it reveals our smoking rates have gone down considerably, giving us the fewest number of daily smokers of all the countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.  But the same research raises concerns about binge-drinking among young women, showing teenage girls are out-drinking boys of the same age, putting themselves at risk of harm in the long and short term. More than a third of Australians – 38 per cent – have used an illicit drug, most commonly marijuana, which one in three people have used at some stage.  But regular marijuana use is at a 13-year-low, with only 11 per cent of the population having used it recently, and ecstasy has picked up the slack. Use of the ‘party drug’ is at a 13-year high, with 3 percent of Australians having used it recently.”

South American Drug Cartels Increasingly Using West Africa As Hub For Smuggling.  Reuters (7/28) reports, “South American drug cartels are moving their logistics bases to West Africa, lured by lax policing in an unstable region and the presence of small, underground criminal groups, United Nations experts say.  Drug cartels are increasingly using West Africa as a hub for smuggling, working with criminal networks from the region who market cannabis, cocaine and heroin in Europe and North America, according to the UN. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).”  Antonio Mazzitelli, head of UNODC’s regional office for West and Central Africa, said, “If you look at recent seizures of cocaine, the biggest are all linked to groups with operations on the West African coast.”  Reuters adds, “Consignments of cocaine would mainly come in from Latin America through the Cape Verde islands off the Atlantic coast, or through Ghana, Nigeria and Togo, from where they would be re-exported to markets including Spain, Portugal and the United Kingdom.”

BBC News (7/28) reports, “South American drug cartels have started to use West Africa as a hub for smuggling operations, UN experts say.  The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in West and Central Africa told the BBC that some 40 tonnes of cocaine had recently been seized in the region.  Antonio Mazzitelli said lax policing in some West African nations was the main attraction for traffickers.   He said cartels mostly targeted Europe, but some drugs were being turned into crack for local consumption. Mazzitelli told the BBC’s World Today program, “It is a trend that we have already noticed in the last 24 months.  They [the cartels] have already moved into West Africa.’

Colombian Government Offers To Meet With FARC Rebels To Discuss Hostage Exchange.  The London Guardian (7/28, Muse) reports, “The Colombian government has announced its willingness to hold talks with Farc rebels in order to exchange imprisoned guerrillas for hostages held by the Marxist guerrillas.  The 17,000-strong FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, are holding about 60 prominent hostages, including the presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt as well as former ministers, politicians and three US defense contractors.  The rebels are demanding the release of 500 imprisoned guerrillas.  The announcement marks a change in government policy which had previously ruled out any deal that would see imprisoned guerrillas return to the ranks of the insurgency.”

Reuters (7/28, Bronstein) reports, “Colombia has offered to meet Marxist rebels at a time and place of their own choosing to negotiate an exchange of about 70 hostages, including a former presidential candidate and three Americans, for guerrillas held in state prisons.  ‘We just hope that they will show good will and we can meet them as soon as possible,’ Luis Carlos Restrepo, the government’s chief peace negotiator, said.  The offer came days after the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, released a government soldier in what it called a conciliatory gesture aimed at paving the way for a swap of hostages for prisoners.  Up to now chances of such a deal have looked remote as the rebels have refused government demands that their thousands of jailed comrades will not return to the insurgent ranks if they are released.  The latest offer did not appear to address that concern.”

State Department Official Urges Colombia To Get Tough On Human rights Abusers.  Reuters (7/28, Bronstein) reports, “Colombia must aggressively prosecute human rights atrocities and ensure that right-wing paramilitaries who are guilty of murder are brought to justice, a top US government official said on Wednesday.  Nicholas Burns, US under secretary of state for political affairs, told Reuters he expected ‘tough’ implementation of the government’s new law governing the disbandment of the country’s violent, drug-running militias.  ‘We think it has to be implemented in a very aggressive, very tough way because, while peace is the reason for a program like this, justice is important as well,’ the No. 3 State Department official said following a Bogota news conference after a two-day visit to the Andean country.  Some US congressmen have said the demobilization law, which offers reduced jail time to paramilitary criminals who turn in their arms, goes too soft on them and does little to dismantle their criminal networks.”

Left-Wing Colombian Presidential Candidate Says War To Last As Long As Rural Poverty Continues.  Reuters (7/28, Webb) reports, “Colombia will never end its 41-year-old war without providing land for poor peasants now tempted to become rebels or grow cocaine crops, a left-wing contender in next year’s election said.  ‘The Colombian conflict has its deepest roots in the countryside, and without winning over the peasants we are never going to solve that conflict,’ said Antonio Navarro, a former leftist guerrilla running in May’s presidential election.  The only way to defuse a war claiming thousands of lives a year is an agrarian reform to give economically viable land to peasants currently tempted to become rebels or plant coca, the raw material of cocaine, the Colombian senator said in an interview this week.  ‘If we don’t do that, we can send in more army brigades, more helicopters, and we’re never going to end the conflict,’ he said in a jab at President Alvaro Uribe, who has increased military spending and boosted troop numbers by a third.”

Spanish Customs Agents Seize 2.2 Tons Of Cocaine.  The AP (7/28) reports, “Spanish customs agents seized 2.2 tons of cocaine on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean and arrested the vessel’s seven-member Brazilian crew, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday.  The boat, the Brasimex 1, was intercepted last week and was brought into the Canary Islands port of Las Palmas Tuesday, a ministry statement said. Agents who boarded the boat found an automatic rifle, a shotgun, a pistol and large quantities of ammunition.  The cocaine was split up into 89 packages and was of high quality.”

British Statistics Show Significant Increase Drug Addicts Seeking Treatment.  The London Guardian (7/28, Travis) reports, “The number of drug addicts going into specialist treatment services has soared by 27% from 125,500 to more than 160,050 in the past year, according to figures published by the National Treatment Agency yesterday. They confirm the rapid expansion of drug treatment services in Britain, from 650 in 2003-4 to 850 in 2004-5. But a breakdown of the 53,000 addicts who left treatment courses in the last year shows that nearly half had dropped out or left and only 29% could be described as ‘successful completions.’”  The Guardian adds, “The numbers going into treatment had expanded rapidly in recent years from the 50,000 addicts who were in contact with NHS treatment services in the mid-1990s.  But a Downing Street strategy unit report published last month said that only 20% of the 280,000 estimated ‘high harm’ heroin and crack cocaine users were in treatment at any one time and ‘those that engage with treatment tend not to stay with it too long.’  The NTA’s analysis shows that of the 125,000 in treatment in 2003-4, three-quarters were being treated for opiates, mainly heroin, and 5% were being treated for cocaine or crack addictions.  A further 10,096 were being treated for cannabis and 754 for ecstasy.  Only 3,000 of those who left courses last year were classified as ‘drug free.’”

Leading Italian Mafia Boss Arrested In Toronto Waives Right To Extradition Hearing.  The Toronto Globe and Mail (7/28, Friesen) reports, “A leading Italian Mafia boss arrested in Toronto last month waived his right to an extradition hearing yesterday, clearing the way for his deportation to Italy, where he faces a 10-year prison term.  Antonio Commisso, 49, a capo in the ‘Ndrangheta crime group based in Siderno, Southern Italy, was arrested in Woodridge, Ont., in June.  He had been living in Canada for more than a year after fleeing his home in Reggio Calabria after conviction on a charge of Mafia association, a crime under Italian law.  He will now be escorted back to Italy by Italian police on a commercial flight once his paperwork has been cleared, likely within a few days.  Documents contained in Mr. Commisso’s court file reveal a man who, though at the top of a powerful criminal group, was struggling to maintain control of its warring factions.”  The Globe and Mail adds, “At the time of his arrest in 2000, police in Italy had compiled extensive evidence linking him to organized criminal activities. He was described as the leader of “a dangerous, bloodthirsty Mafia association” with its tentacles in the drug trade, weapons trafficking, armed robberies and extortion. He was the man whose approval was sought before any criminal activity in the district was to be carried out, the court documents allege.”

Top Colombian Farmers’ Group Blasts President Uribe’s Coca-Buying Plan.  Reuters (7/26) reports, “A top Colombian farmers’ group on Monday said the president’s offer to buy peasants out of the coca business could backfire by prompting them to grow more of the illicit crop. President Alvaro Uribe on Saturday said his government would pay peasant farmers to surrender their coca, the leafy bush used to make cocaine. ‘This would create confusion and provide an incentive to plant coca for the government to buy,’ said Rafael Mejia, chief of the Farmers’ Society of Colombia, the Andean country’s biggest agricultural lobbying group. Lower House Congressman Gustavo Petro of the left-wing Polo Democratico Party said the effort would threaten to increase the price of coca if drug smugglers are forced to compete against the government for crops.”

Nuevo Laredo Plagued By Corruption And Violence.  In a column in the San Antonio Express-News (7/26) Carlos Guerra writes, “US officials say the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels have vied to control access to Interstate 35 for four years, with neither gaining the upper hand. But things changed after they started employing Zetas and Zeros — former Mexican soldiers with special operations tactical, communications and weaponry training — for muscle.  Recently, the US Embassy offered to help Tamaulipas’ state police reorganize, but no miracle is anticipated.  ‘There is no reasonable expectation that a local police force, or even a state police force, could have the resources to combat groups that are as well-armed and well-financed as the cartels,’ said a highly placed US official who asked not to be named.  What’s more, the cartels also have corrupted many public officials, the source said, with very generous bribes.  When an officer is killed, it often is assumed that he or she was on the take, whether it is true or not. …  Corruption of Nuevo Laredo’s city police was almost total, the U.S. official said, and ‘we even heard one group of police working for one cartel threatening another set working for another cartel over the police radio.’  In April, the U.S. State Department issued an alert advising Americans about the city’s narcoviolence.  Not as serious as a warning, Americans took the alert seriously enough to stop coming.

Canadian Authorities Bust Larges Outdoor Marijuana Grow-Op In Northern Ontario.  The Canadian Press (7/26) reports, “Police in northern Ontario have charged a Toronto man after they found marijuana fields stretching ‘three football fields in length’ in what is considered to be one of Canada’s largest pot busts.  Investigators found more than 21,000 marijuana plants behind a home nestled in the woods of Iroquois Falls, east of Timmins.  Officers with the Ontario Provincial Police, North Bay police and a K-9 unit carried out a search warrant Sunday.  ‘We had a marijuana field approximately three football fields in length by one football field wide,’ said Ontario police Det.-Sgt. Bill O’Shea, a unit commander with the OPP’s drug enforcement section.  ‘Plants were planted in straight rows just like any other crop.’  No pains were taken to conceal the growing operation, said O’Shea, who described the operation as one of the biggest he’d ever seen.   ‘I’ve been in drug enforcement for approximately 15 years and this is one of the largest outdoor grows I’ve ever been involved in.’”

Colombian Government Offers To Buy Farmers’ Illegal Coca Crops.  The AP (7/25, Molinski) reports, “Colombian government is offering to buy farmers’ illegal crops of coca… in the latest effort to stem illegal drug production in this South American nation.  President Alvaro Uribe said in a speech late Saturday that farmers would have to sign a document promising to never again cultivate illegal crops in order to get the money.  The government would destroy the purchased crop.”  Uribe said in the central plains region of Villavicencio, “Hand over the coca and take the cash, similar to a country fair: Hand over the pig, take the cash.”  The AP adds, “He said drug crop farmers should approach the nearest police or army commander without fear of arrest and hand over their crops of coca or poppy, which is used to make heroin. The price would be negotiated at the point of sale. The program is so far only available in the central Meta region.”  Uribe said that “the decision was made after the government analyzed the situation of hundreds of poor farmers in the area, where the Colombian army has been locked in a two-year military offensive against leftist guerrillas who are also major drug traffickers and the primary buyers of the peasants’ coca crops in the area.”

Reuters (7/25) reports, “Uribe did not say how much the government would pay farmers to get out of the coca business. Peasants currently can get about $800 for 2.2 pounds (1 kg) of coca paste, which is made from coca leaves, from Marxist guerrillas in some parts of the country.  The offer came as the government’s massive, US-funded program of spraying crops of coca, a leafy bush used to make cocaine, makes slow progress against the illegal trade.”

Uribe Seeks Support For Lighter Sentences For Demobilizing Paramilitaries.  The Los Angeles Times (7/24, Van Dongen) reports, “Facing criticism that he is being too lenient with right-wing paramilitary fighters, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has mounted a diplomatic offensive to win international support for legislation that grants light sentences to some of this country’s most notorious combatants in exchange for demobilizing.  On Friday, Uribe signed a controversial bill that critics say will allow members of paramilitaries engaged in peace talks with the government to get off with as little as 22 months in prison and avoid extradition to the United States. Late last month, the Colombian Congress approved the so-called Justice and Peace bill, which affects about 13,000 paramilitary fighters, including some accused of committing atrocities.  The legislation and Uribe’s government have come under fire from U.S. lawmakers and human rights groups who fear that it will set the wrong precedent in Colombia’s protracted civil war involving the paramilitaries, the government and left-wing guerrillas.” The Times adds, “The US Senate Appropriations Committee has voted to block as much as $3 million in aid to the demobilization process unless the paramilitaries’ mafia-like structures are disbanded and top chieftains are extradited to the US on drug-trafficking charges.  The committee’s decision is pending before the full Senate.”

Drug Policy Think-Tank Proposes Legalizing Opium Production In Afghanistan.  The Financial Times (7/25, Jack) reports, “Afghan farmers could from next year be able to grow opium for legal medicinal purposes, under an innovative plan designed to curb illegal production being drawn up by a drug policy think-tank.  The Senlis Council, a group that studies narcotics, is in preliminary talks with international organizations and Afghan regional administrations to garner their support for pilot programs designed to tackle the country’s problem with opium by using it to produce the legal painkillers codeine and morphine.  The council, due to present in September a feasibility study funded by a dozen European social policy foundations, calculates that Afghan farmers and intermediaries could receive revenues from the scheme that almost match their current earnings from unauthorized opium production for smuggling abroad.  The plan could help bring greater stability to Afghanistan and reduce illegal flows of opium to the rest of the world.  It could also help fill developing nations’ large demand for painkillers. The group calculates this demand could be for twice the amount of Afghanistan’s annual opium harvest.” Emmanuel Reinert, co-ordinator of the study for the Senlis Council, said, “This may be the only chance Afghanistan has to solve its drug problem.”

Spanish Police Seize Three Tons of Cocaine.  The Australian Associated Press (7/25) reports, “Spanish police seized about 3 tons of cocaine on a fishing boat intercepted in international waters and arrested 18 people, authorities said.  Spanish National Police joined by members of the Spanish Army and customs agents boarded the Ghanaian-flagged boat off the African coast, a police statement said.  The crew of the Ceres II, four Koreans, two Spaniards and 12 Ghanaians, were arrested, according to the police statement.  The ship was coming from South America carrying the cocaine bound for Europe, it added.”

Sydney Drug Ring Member Agrees To Testify For Corby.  The Australian Associated Press (7/25) reports, “Schapelle Corby’s Indonesian lawyer says a member of a Sydney drug ring has agreed to testify via video-link to a Bali court that she had been an unwitting drug mule for corrupt baggage handlers in Australia. However, the mystery witness will testify only on the condition that Australian authorities grant him immunity from prosecution, counsel Hotman Paris Hutapea said.  Hutapea said the potential witness claims he was part of a group in Sydney that was supposed to have received the 4.1kg of marijuana found in Corby’s luggage at Bali airport last October.  ‘He was involved. He was one of the ones who were supposed to receive the drugs in Sydney,’ Hutapea said by phone from his Jakarta office.  He has no doubts about the man’s story or his motivation for coming forward.”

Russian Government Approves Program To Fight Illegal Drugs Over Next Four Years.  The Moscow Times (7/22, Schreck) reports, “The government on Thursday approved a $127 million program to fight illegal drugs over the next four years that includes treatment of drug users, a step that drug policy reform advocates say is crucial in developing a humane and effective approach to the problem.  But the Federal Drug Control Service also announced that it would continue to pursue controversial policies to crack down on an animal anesthetic and poppy plants near dachas.  The program, titled ‘Integrated Measures of Counteracting Drug Abuse and Illegal Trafficking for 2005-2009,’ earmarks $126 million from the federal budget and an extra $1 million in nonbudgetary funds aimed primarily at prophylactic measures, Alexander Fyodorov, deputy head of the drug control service, told the Cabinet on Thursday. Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov emphasized the importance of enforcing ‘strict criminal persecution of dealers and organized crime groups.’  ‘But no less important is medical and social support for people who use drugs,’ Zhukov said at the meeting.”

Brazilian Authorities Arrest 10 Accused Of Using Orku As Drug Distribution Network.  Reuters (7/22) reports, “Brazilian police arrested 10 people on Thursday accused of selling drugs using Google’s international social networking site Orkut, which is hugely popular in the Latin American country.  ‘We discovered the drug ring first via authorized phone tapping, and later the investigation included monitoring of their activities on the Internet,’ said a duty officer at the Drugs Enforcement Service in the city of Niteroi, just across the bay from Rio de Janeiro.  The officer, who declined to be named, told Reuters most of those accused were detained in Niteroi, others in Rio and one in the resort town of Buzios.  ‘We’ve nabbed 10 so far, but there may be more,’ he added. The ring distributed mainly ecstasy and marijuana.  Orkut allows members to join and set up online communities to discuss everything from doughnuts to quantum physics and schedule events such as community meetings.  Narcotics are also discussed, with some groups advocating their legalization. However, most popular Portuguese-language communities touching on the issue are anti-drug groups.”

Russian Authorities Arrest German Citizen Trying To Sell 5,000 Ecstasy Pills In Penza.  The Moscow Times (7/22) reports, “The Federal Security Service said Thursday that it had arrested a German citizen on suspicion of trying to sell 5,000 Ecstasy pills in the city of Penza.  The suspect was detained on July 3 as he tried to sell the pills for 940,000 rubles ($32,850) in a Penza cafe, Vitaly Muronsky, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service, or FSB, said.  Muronsky said the suspect was a Kazakh-born ethnic German with relatives in the area, but he declined to identify him, citing an ongoing investigation.  German Embassy press officers were not available for comment Thursday afternoon. The suspect has been charged with drug possession and intent to distribute, and, if convicted, faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Muronsky said the pills were concealed in a television set smuggled to Penza via Crimea with the help of a Ukrainian national and another German. The two have not been charged.”

Swiss, Dutch Authorities Bust International Drug Trafficking Ring. The New York Times (7/22, Tagliabue) reports, “ The police in Switzerland and the Netherlands have broken up an international drug trafficking ring and detained eight people accused of smuggling cocaine into Switzerland. The Swiss police stumbled on the network after they detained two Dutch nationals at Zurich airport as they sought to smuggle hundreds of grams of cocaine in specially prepared shoes”

Five Nuevo Laredo Police Officers Killed In Four Days.  The AP (7/21) reports, “Two police officers were gunned down today while on their way to work, bringing to five the number of authorities that have been slain in this violent border city in four days. Ricardo Uvalle Escobedo and Jose de Jesus Morin Salinas were killed by unidentified assailants in separate incidents while en route from their homes to the Nuevo Laredo police station, said investigator Oscar Sepulveda.  Numerous spent Kalashnikov rifle shells were found near the vehicles of both officers, who were killed in different parts of the city, Sepulveda said.  The shootings came just hours after two men with machine guns opened fire with more than 50 rounds Tuesday night, killing a pair of police officers not far from city hall. Cmdr. Daniel Juarez and Inspector Carlos Manuel Alvarez were riding in an unmarked car in an area between the municipal building and a crowded federal consumer protection office when they were ambushed, Sepulveda said.  Juarez was killed instantly, while Alvarez died about an hour later at a hospital. …  Sunday night, Jose Noel Vives, a police agent for Tamaulipas state, which includes Nuevo Laredo, was shot 15 times and killed as he left his financee’s house.”

Reuters (7/21) reports, “Gunmen armed with assault rifles shot dead two Mexican policemen in a lawless city on the U.S. border early on Wednesday, bringing deaths among the local police force to four in less than 24 hours.  Police sources said assailants shot the off-duty officers in separate attacks as they drove through the city of Nuevo Laredo, a sun-baked trade hub and drug-crime hotspot over the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas.  A day earlier gunmen raked two police officers with automatic weapons fire, killing them. News reports said more than 50 shots were fired in the attack. Nuevo Laredo is a key hub for trade in goods and illegal drugs bound for Texas. It is currently in the grip of a war between powerful drug cartels seeking control of lucrative cocaine, marijuana and amphetamine smuggling routes.”

Amnesty International, Mexican Rights Groups Launched Campaign To Free Prisoner.  Reuters (7/21, Orlandi) reports, “Nadia Zepeda says Mexico City police arrested and raped her in 2003, planted cocaine on her and sent her to prison in the name of a ‘zero tolerance’ crime policy that rights groups say has run amok.  Amnesty International and Mexican rights groups launched a campaign on Wednesday to free Zepeda, 20, who has been in prison for two and a half years for possession and sale of drugs in a case they condemned as arbitrary and flawed.  ‘I still don’t understand why they did it or why they are doing it,’ a soft-spoken Zepeda said on a video tape from her prison presented to reporters on Wednesday.  Her case is emblematic of a wave of violations being documented by rights watchdogs under new, tough crime policies inspired by former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.”

French Emissary Meets With FARC Rebels To Explore Hostage Exchange. Reuters (7/21) reports, “A French government emissary has met Colombian rebels to explore a possible exchange of hostages including a former presidential candidate and three Americans for guerrillas held in government jails, an official said on Wednesday.  Interior Minister Sabas Pretelt confirmed a report in newspaper El Tiempo that the French emissary had traveled to a secret location to meet Raul Reyes, one of the top commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.  ‘The (Colombian) government authorized the French government to intercede on behalf of the people who have been kidnapped,’ Pretelt told reporters.  The 13,000-strong rebel army known by the Spanish initials FARC wants to swap a group of about 70 hostages for hundreds of rebels held in government jails.  The French government is particularly interested to secure the release of Ingrid Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian national captured by rebels while campaigning for Colombia’s presidency for a small left-wing party in early 2002.”

Afghan Government Destroys 60 Tons Of Drugs.  Reuters (7/21) reports, “Afghanistan has destroyed 60 tons of illegal drugs with a street value of hundreds of millions of dollars in the past two weeks in a bid to avoid becoming a narco-state, an official said on Wednesday.  Confiscated caches of hashish, opium, morphine and heroin were burned after being seized from traffickers trying to smuggle them outside Afghanistan, Interior Ministry spokesman Lutfullah Mashal said. ‘In total, 60 tons of drugs have been destroyed. It is a historical move globally in terms of the short period of time in which the destruction took place,’ Mashal told Reuters.”

Bali Court Gives Corby Second Chance To Call Witnesses.  Reuters (7/21) reports, “Bali court on Wednesday gave Schapelle Corby, a convicted Australian drug smuggler, a second chance to call witnesses who her lawyers say could help free her from a 20-year jail sentence.  Witnesses including an Australian police officer and a prisoner serving a sentence in Australia on drug charges were unable to attend a session on Wednesday on the appeal of the 28-year old beauty therapist.  One defense witness, an Indonesian law professor, did appear.  ‘(The court) will give a last chance to the defense lawyers to bring witnesses which are already mentioned in the list,’ chief judge Linton Sirait told the Denpasar District Court, referring to names previously submitted to the court.  The new hearing was scheduled for August 3.”

The Australian Associated Press (7/21) reports, “Schapelle Corby’s legal team have been given one last chance and two more weeks to produce witnesses to back her claims of innocence.  The breakthrough came after hours of seemingly bizarre and obscure legal argument in Bali’s Denpasar District Court today as well as a plea on Indonesian TV by Corby herself.  Chaos broke out when news crews jostled with police and almost knocked a handcuffed and distressed Corby to the ground when she arrived for the reopening of her case. Her sister Mercedes angrily lashed out at the media scrum.  Inside, the court’s chief judge Linton Sirait and two other judges – who just six weeks ago sentenced Corby to 20 years jail – ignored protests from the prosecution and gave the defense until August 3 to present new testimony.  ‘This is the last chance,’’ Sirait told the four-man defence team headed by celebrity counsel Hotman Paris Hutapea who so far has been only able to muster one witness onto the stand.”

The Melbourne Age (7/21, Johnston) reports, “Schapelle Corby, armed with new hope and a new legal team, came to court in Bali yesterday to begin her appeal against her 20-year sentence for drug smuggling.  It was Corby’s first trip outside the island’s Kerobokan prison since she was convicted in May of attempting to smuggle 4.1 kilograms of marijuana.  She looked alert, although there were signs that her composure was an effort.  ‘Before court she always gets a bit more emotional,’ her sister Mercedes, who was in court, said.  ‘But she didn’t do it, so she’s confident.’  Yesterday’s hearing was to provide supplementary evidence for Bali’s High Court to consider when it reviews her conviction at the end of next month.”

The Melbourne Herald Sun (7/21, Wockner) reports, “A photo taken in Bali Customs was produced by Schapelle Corby’s legal team yesterday, hoping it would prove her innocence.  Corby’s celebrity lawyer Hotman Paris Hutapea said the photographs were taken by Corby’s sister, Mercedes, moments after she was taken away by Bali Airport Customs officers last October 8.  In the photo a bag can clearly be seen while in the background sit Schapelle’s travel companions Katrina Richards, Alyth McComb and her half-brother James Kisina.   The photographs were taken by Mercedes in the Customs office while Schapelle was being detained in another room.  While Corby’s reopened trial was adjourned yesterday with barely any evidence given, Mr Hutapea took the unusual step outside of releasing the photographs to the media in a bid to prove how illogical it was his client would smuggle drugs into his country in such a way.”

DEA Agent Testifies In Drug Trafficking Trial In St. Croix.  The Virgin Islands Daily News (7/20, Stokes-Gifft) reports, “A [DEA] agent detailed his pursuit of an alleged drug dealer and accomplices as testimony continued in the drug trafficking and money laundering case against Craig Hendricks and five other men in District Court on Tuesday.  For most of the day on Tuesday, jurors heard from witnesses, including DEA special agent Joseph Tokars, who described how he and other agents worked with confidential informants to gain information about Hendricks’ alleged drug operation.  Tokars said after DEA agents arrested pilot Anthony Ottley of St. Kitts and Hector Rivera of St. Croix that they managed to get them to cooperate with federal authorities, providing them with money to set drug deals that were monitored on the telephone. Rivera was murdered in June 2003.   Jurors heard recordings of alleged drug deals in which code names and slang were used to describe prices and the quantity and quality of drugs.  Earlier in the day, Ottley wrapped up his testimony, which began Monday. A pilot, he said he transported Hendricks, others, money and drugs from St. Thomas to St. Croix, St. Kitts and St. Maarten.”

RCMP Busts 18 People In Raid Against BC Hells Angel Motorcycle Club.  The AP (7/20) reports, “Royal Canadian Mounted Police have arrested 18 people in a raid against the Hells Angel motorcycle club in British Columbia.  Monday’s arrests came after a 23-month investigation. RCMP officers allege that the Hells Angels East End Chapter is a criminal organization, which could mean longer sentences for members under a new law.  Six of the 18 arrested are full members of the Hells Angels. All 18 have been jailed and most made court appearances Monday. A 19th person, Kerry Ryan Renaud, 25, remained at large.  Under changes to the Canadian Criminal Code, 18 of the accused men, who face various drug, assault and extortion charges, could be sentenced to extra jail time for committing the crimes for an illegal gang.”  The AP adds, “The investigation by Vancouver police and the RCMP led to the discovery of two crystal methamphetamine labs, 20 kilograms of methamphetamine, 20 kilos of cocaine and 70 kilos of marijuana.  Police said they also seized five handguns, fully automatic weapons with silencers, 11 sticks of dynamite with detonation cord and blasting caps, four grenades and ammunition, and $200,000 in cash.”

Vancouver’s Safe Injection Site Attracting More Higher-Risk Drug Users, Study Finds.  CBC News (7/19) reports, “Vancouver’s safe injection site is attracting more higher-risk drug users than expected, says a study published Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.  Researchers say the finding is surprising because the higher-risk addicts tend to be younger, are apt to share needles and are unlikely to use health-care facilities – all factors that expose drug users to HIV infection and overdose. It appears they’re attracted to the injection site in the city’s Downtown Eastside because it offers a refuge from the mean streets, said study author Dr. Evan Wood of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.  Regular contact with the site could have important long-term benefits, the epidemiologist added.”  Evans said, “It’s a core of high-risk people that are really driving the medical costs associated with HIV.  The fact that it’s that population that has been attracted to the site is very promising.”

Marijuana Refugee Steve Kubby Loses Battle To Stay In Canada.  The Canadian Press (7/19) reports, “Marijuana refugee Steve Kubby is facing a return to the United States after losing his battle to stay in Canada.  Mr. Kubby was convicted in California four years ago of possessing peyote and a magic-mushroom stem. He received a 120-day sentence, then fled to British Columbia with his wife and two children.  Mr. Kubby, who suffers from adrenal cancer, says that marijuana helps his disorder and he won’t have access to it in jail.”

RCMP Probe Target Hells Angels In Western Canada.  Reuters (7/19) reports, “Canadian police said on Monday they have laid charges against 18 people and seized an estimated C$7 million ($5.8 million) in drugs in a two-year probe into a West Coast chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.  Police also said they expect to file more charges after raids on Friday at three Hells Angels clubhouses, including the headquarters of Vancouver’s East End Chapter, which investigators allege is one of the club’s wealthiest in North America.  The charges include drug trafficking, extortion and possession of illegal explosives and weapons, some of which were displayed at a Vancouver news conference along with large bags of cocaine, cash and aromatic marijuana.  Investigators also charged several people with being members of a criminal organization, using a new Canadian law specifically aimed at disrupting the activities of the Hells Angels and other motorcycle gangs.”

The Canadian Press (7/19) reports, “Police said Monday that massive raids on the B.C. Hells Angels stem from an intense 23-month investigation. Standing beside huge bricks of cocaine, guns and crystal meth, Mounties confirmed that 17 bikers have been arrested while one man remains at large. Vancouver police and the RCMP hope the Friday raids on clubhouses in Kelowna and East Vancouver helped avert the opening of a new Kelowna Hells Angels chapter.”

Tajik Drug Control Officer Busted For Transporting More Than Five Kilos Of Heroin.  The AP (7/19) reports, “Tajik security agents detained a drug control officer who was found with more than five kilograms (11 pounds) of heroin, a city prosecutor said Monday.  Officer Abdusalom Yuldashev was detained after agents found three kilograms (6.6 pounds) of heroin in his car on Saturday, and another two kilograms at his home, said prosecutor Khabibullo Vakhidov.  Yuldashev, who worked for the Interior Ministry’s anti-drug trafficking unit, was charged with trafficking and abuse of power.”

Study Funds Heroin Users, Prostitutes In Myanmar Spread AIDS In Asia.  Reuters (7/19, Leopold) reports, “Heroin users and prostitutes in Myanmar have spread HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, through large parts of Asia, according to a Council on Foreign Relations study released on Monday.  The use of so-called genetic fingerprinting now allows scientists to identify changes in the evolution of the virus and thereby dispute accusations, such as the one Libya made against Bulgarian nurses, that one group or another was spreading the virus.  ‘With the exception of one serious outbreak in China, virtually all the strains of HIV now circulating in Asia — from Manipur, India, all the way to Vietnam, from mid-China all the way down to Indonesia, come from a single country,’ Laurie Garrett, author of the 67-page report, told a news conference.  ‘Several research teams have proven that these various HIV strains can be tracked along four major routes, all originating in Burma,’ she said, referring to Myanmar’s former name. The highest infection rates are among prostitutes and heroin users in Myanmar, ranked as the world’s top opium producer until 2003 when Afghanistan moved to first place.”

Category: Drug News