US Cautiously Praises Bulgaria's Efforts to Combat Drug Trade
The US Department of State has extended cautious praise for the efforts of the Bulgarian government, and specifically the Interior Ministry, to combat the international drug trafficking.
"The government of Bulgaria, GOB, continues to make significant gains in counter narcotics enforcement against drug production and trafficking. Bulgaria's law enforcement has actively contributed to international investigations resulting in considerable seizures and arrests in both Bulgaria and the region," reads the 2011 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report of the US Department of State.
The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, INCSR, is an annual report by the Department of State to Congress prepared in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act. It describes the efforts of key countries to attack all aspects of the international drug trade in Calendar Year 2011.
Counternarcotics efforts are primarily the responsibility of several specialized police services within the Ministry of Interior (MOI), and the Customs Agency under the Ministry of Finance (MOF). The MOI continues to strengthen institutional capacity, with its General Directorate for Combating Organized Crime (GDBOP) taking an increasingly effective lead in counternarcotics investigations and operations. The Customs Agency continues to implement reforms and registered a slight increase in drug seizures over last year," says INCSR.
According to it, organized crime groups operating in Bulgaria have increased their influence and involvement in the international narcotics trade. These groups are sophisticated, well-financed, and entrenched within Bulgarian society.
The report, which was presented the US congress on March 7, notes that Bulgaria is a transit country for heroin, as well as a minor producer of illicit synthetic narcotics:
"Bulgaria's location astride Balkan heroin transit routes makes it vulnerable to international trafficking organizations transporting narcotics into the European Union, the US government points out and its membership in the European Union makes it a desired target for drug trafficking organizations supplying narcotics to consumer markets in Western Europe.
Bulgaria's Black Sea ports continue to be exploited by drug traffickers to smuggle cocaine from South America to Europe and heroin from Turkey and Iran to Europe.
The only illicit drug crop known to be cultivated in Bulgaria is cannabis, primarily for domestic consumption. Bulgaria continues to be a source of some synthetic drugs, though production has declined in recent years," the US Department of State finds out.
In terms of recent legislation, the report marks the modification of the list of controlled substances, which had greatly increased the ability of the Government of Bulgaria (GOB) to effectively combat the increasing presence of designer drugs, however, it also stresses that the lack of effective asset forfeiture legislation complicates government action against organized crime and narcotics distributors. Recent efforts to strengthen forfeiture legislation failed, it says.
The report explains that over the past year Customs has continued to implement reforms, which appear to place an increased priority on the search for taxable contraband (i.e., cigarettes) at Bulgaria's borders and reduce the priority for narcotics - a trend that is illustrated by two years of historically low narcotics seizures and an updated Customs Mission Strategy which no longer includes counternarcotics as a goal.
The Ministry of Interior continues to aggressively combat domestic narcotic production and from January to November closed eight synthetic laboratories, and seized 5,600 cannabis plants in what is believed to be one of the largest indoor cannabis operations in Europe, according to INCSR, adding that the efforts of Bulgarian law enforcement have led to significant narcotics seizures and arrests both in Bulgaria and outside the country.
It does, however, point out that overall MOI seizures of heroin registered only a slight increase from last year, while Bulgarian Customs seizures have also increased slightly over last year, but are still historically low.
Bulgarian law enforcement reports a surge in the import and use of "designer drugs," which are often shipped from China disguised as innocuous chemical products.
The number of drug addicts in Bulgaria is listed at 300 000, of which 30,000 are heroin addicts, according to data of the Bulgarian Institute for Addictions, used for the report.
A special section of it focuses on corruption, which remains a serious problem in the police, customs, and judiciary.
"Despite reforms, the judiciary (which includes prosecutors and judges) consistently receives poor scores in public confidence and opinion polls. Complicated judicial procedures and legal loopholes result in excessive case delays which make it difficult to effectively prosecute high-profile organized crime and corruption cases. Often, officials discovered to be corrupt are reassigned or pressured to quit, rather than fired and prosecuted," reads the report.
The US State Department further points out that the US DEA operations in Bulgaria are currently managed from the US Consulate General in Istanbul, however, DEA has been authorized by congress to open a country office in Sofia. In the past year, the U.S. Embassy provided State-INL-funded equipment and training to a Joint Organized Crime taskforce, which investigates and prosecutes many of the high profile drug cases in Bulgaria.
The US government recommends to GOB to continue efforts to strengthen its anti-corruption laws, to reintroduce legislation to implement some form of Non-Criminal-Based confiscation, to strengthen its asset forfeiture legislation and anti-corruption laws.
"While some progress has been made, further reform of the police and judiciary is necessary. The opening of the new specialized court for organized crime, if implemented properly, should be an effective tool in addressing administrative issues hampering the prosecution and sentencing of high-profile drug traffickers. Continued improvements to Customs Agency reforms are needed to ensure that counternarcotics efforts remain a priority," the US Department of State concluded.
Full text of the report read HERE.
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