17 January 2003
Drug Trafficking In The Czech Republic And Former Soviet Republics
Each year the Czech National Anti-Drug Center publishes its summary report on the drug situation in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately, the size of this report grows every year and generally corresponds to the growth of the drug trade across Europe. According to reviews of the European press, the influence of Russian-speaking criminal groups has greatly increased and is now on par with the high activity of Balkan criminal groups across Europe.
The illegal drug scene of the Czech Republic is most notable for being the source of "pervitin," one of the most dangerous synthetic drugs. The media regularly cover the antidrug center's special operations against pervitin.
However, a recently published article ("Mlada fronta Dnes," 4 December 2002) by well-known Czech journalists Radek Kedron and Sabina Slonkova pointed to the "Azerbaijani mafia" as one of the basic suppliers and secondhand dealers of drugs in the country, second only to Ukrainian and Daghestani groups. This was an unpleasant discovery, to tell the truth, as the total number of Azerbaijanis in the Czech Republic number no more than 100 people. That cannot be compared with the numerous Armenian, Georgian, or other groups of new emigrants.
The RFE/RL Azerbaijani Service's Prague correspondent, Elshad Tagiev, spoke directly to Czech National Anti-Drug Center Chairman Jiri Komorous regarding this news. Tagiev also asked him to describe the current situation regarding illegal drug distribution and why the government decided to create a separate antidrug center in the Czech Republic.
Q: The first question concerns the history of the Czech National Anti-Drug Center. Usually antidrug offices are set up within the Interior Ministry and are not independent. What were the reasons for the separate body?
A: Our organization is a continuation of the Drugs Department, which was founded in the 1930s in early Czechoslovakia. In connection with changes in Czechoslovakia in the 1990s, the drug situation has also sharply changed, so the Federal Interior Ministry reacted quickly, and on 1 November 1991 created the Brigade of Federal Drug Police. This branch was historically the first branch of the Czech police that specialized in illegal drug distribution. Since then we have undergone restructuring a number of times, and we have been subordinated to different departments within the Interior Ministry.
Our current structure has existed since 15 January 2001, when our branch was reorganized under the National Center for the Fight Against Drugs, as a part of the Criminal Investigations Board of the Interior Ministry. Today, our structure is the supreme body of the Czech police for the fight against illicit drugs in our territory, and it also represents the state when working with similar bodies of other countries.
Q: In many Czech newspapers one can find stories about the so-called features of the Czech illicit drug market. What are these features, and how does this specialness manifest itself?
A: The Czech Republic's special features are related to its geographic position in Europe. In other words, we are "geographically predetermined" to be a transit territory for drug trafficking -- in particular we are a conduit for the so-called "Balkan heroin-traffic road." And what you call the "specialness" of the Czech Republic -- already during the communist period, with almost completely restricted state borders, there was a relatively strong industrial base formed for illicit drug production, from small chemical laboratories to well-equipped shops for the manufacture of methamphetamine, better-known in the Czech Republic as pervitin.
This fact indeed was the reason pervitin became known as "the Czech drug." However, it is necessary to explain that pervitin was illegally produced practically everywhere, in the U.S., for example, this drug is known as "ice." In Asia, for example in Korea, it is known as "polypon."
Pervitin was first made in Japan in 1888. In 1943, in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, the Third Reich Patent Management patented the manufacturing process of pervitin. Production factories were built by Herman Goering in northern Bohemia, and pervitin itself, due to its strong psychotropic and stimulating effect, was delivered to Japanese kamikaze pilots and to special brigades of the SS and Wermacht.
Q: So, is this why pervitin is known as a particularly Czech drug?
A: Simply for historical reasons, there was no other place in the world where pervitin was made in such quantities and with such a well-organized industrial base. On the other hand, our addicts tried to find substitutes for heroin and cocaine; those were inaccessible for 70 years because of the tightness of the Iron Curtain, and as a result, locally produced pervitin replaced scarce cocaine and heroin. It is also necessary to say that the biggest manufacturer of ephedrine -- which is a raw material for the manufacture of medicines as well as illegal pervitin -- is located in the Czech Republic. During our investigations we came to the conclusion that pervitin distributed in the Czech Republic has three sources. One of them is certainly a local [ephedrine] manufacturer, located in the city of Roztoky, near Prague; however, we have managed to stop this outflow. The Interior Ministry took into account our recommendations to privatize this factory. So today's owner, the American company ANCB, cooperates with us. The second source of ephedrine for the Czech Republic is a large manufacturer located in the former Soviet Union, presumably in Ukraine, although we have no affirmative proof yet. Finally, there is a secondary source of pervitin, which is a cough medicine known as Solutan.
Q: You have said that the second source seems to be a Ukrainian source. I would like to ask you to describe the role of the so-called Russian-speaking criminal groups in the illicit drugs market in Czech Republic.
A: It is possible to state, in general, that foreigners basically control the entire illicit drug market in the Czech Republic. But Czechs continue to hold some roles. First, they are pervitin manufacturers. Recently, Czech citizens have also started cultivating hemp and manufacturing marijuana. Further, it is necessary to note the distribution of the so-called disco drug ecstasy, which is also a prerogative of Czech citizens. Last but not least, sometimes Czechs or, more precisely, some former Czech citizens who emigrated during communism and who have good contacts basically in Latin America, frequently play the role of criminal drug bosses. One such boss, Novotny-Urban, was detained by our center two years ago. He was a personal emissary of [Columbian drug kingpin] Pablo Escobar. It is possible to say that in this case we caught a really key figure. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison in a Czech prison.
Regarding foreign groups, the most dangerous and current leaders in drugs are the groups of Kosovar Albanians. They are our main enemies. Their activity is a phenomenon because they have managed over a very short time to suppress and subordinate the Arab groups that supervised the market in the beginning the 1990s. We have also noted the activity of Turkish and Kurdish groups, but these are trivial in comparison with the scale of Kosovar Albanians. Recently two relatively new ethnic criminal groups have entered the Czech drug market -- Asians, basically Vietnamese, and so-called Russian-speaking [groups].... But the Russian-speaking mafia is interesting. I can say that from the beginning of the 1990s, citizens of the former Soviet Union were engaged in practically all kinds of criminal activity: prostitution, killings, money laundering, racketeering -- almost everything you can imagine, but there were no drug-related cases. We think -- I want to emphasize that it is only our assumption -- that in the beginning of the 1990s, different ethnic criminal groups simply divided the spheres of influence. But in the last two to three years, the situation has begun to change greatly. Bluntly speaking, [Russian-speaking mafias] began to appear practically everywhere and in drug cases. Russians -- sometimes with Belarusians and Ukrainians -- hold the leading roles. Armenians, Daghestanis, and other ethnic groups are on a lower level and mainly work the streets. For example, during one of our special actions to suppress drug sales in the streets of Prague, we detained mostly Daghestanis and Chechens.
Q: Recently the Czech press referred to the "Azerbaijani mafia" as one of the basic suppliers and secondhand dealers of drugs in the country, second to Ukrainian and Daghestani groups. Is it true?
A: No. Azerbaijanis, as well as Daghestanis, Chechens, and other representatives of national minorities of the former Soviet Union play a role on the lowest level and work for other groups. As for Azerbaijanis, during a special operation under nickname Pharaon, according to information from our Italian colleagues, two ethnic Azeris -- citizens of the Russian Federation -- Mushfig ShikhAliyev and Rustam Safarov, were involved in the illegal transfer of 7.5 kilograms of cocaine and 2.13 kilograms of heroin to Italy. They were detained. In any case, Azerbaijanis do not play a big role in the drug scene here.
(Elshad Tagiev, Prague)NGO Accuses Government Of Diverting Attention From Elections
Local nongovernmental organizations intend to observe and even take an active part in the preparatory processes for the presidential elections.
Not long ago the "third sector" created "Free Election, Free Will" an initiative group in order to be represented at the Central Election Commission. Later the group changed its name to the Election Monitoring Coalition.
But Eldar Ismailov, head of the nongovernmental organization For the Sake of Civil Society, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that at present local NGOs are more engaged in solving their own problems than in struggling for election monitoring. "After the presidential decree on amendments to the law on grants, NGOs have concentrated all their attention and efforts on this matter. The presidential decree is, in fact, not accidental and is aimed at keeping NGOs under the government's control," Ismailov said.
Under the headline "Kocharian seeks support abroad," the government newspaper "Khalg" writes that under Armenia's current law on elections, candidates could launch their election campaign on 20 January. Kocharian, however, began his campaign much earlier among the Armenian diaspora.
The opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" in the article "Moscow dictates its conditions to Armenia" notes that in order to enlist the Kremlin's support in the presidential vote, Kocharian will accept Moscow's demands.
The governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that the Azerbaijani-Russian agreement on dividing the Caspian Sea has opened a number of opportunities for the unlimited exploitation of oil and gas resources in the Azerbaijani sector in the sea.
Under the headline "New stage in the long-standing struggle," the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that although the Justice Ministry's decision regarding the People's Front Party (AXCP) is the president's latest step in his struggle with the AXCP, it will not lead to the end of the party.
Zemine Aligizi in an article entitled "Will Robert Kocharian be able to get Moscow's blessing?" in the independent newspaper "525" cites observers saying that Kocharian, who is in an advantageous position compared with other candidates, prefers to visit foreign countries rather than to meet with his voters. The Armenian president is seeking support not among the people, but abroad. This position once again proves that for a long time Armenia has been governed from abroad, especially from Russia. This fact puts means that Kocharian had to visit Russia on the eve of the presidential election. Some observers agree that Russia can render assistance to Armenia, considering that Kocharian willingly fulfills all Russia's requests. Other experts are sure that Russia will not support Kocharian. Aligizi notes that the interesting point in the issue for Azerbaijan is that the presidential vote in Armenia would exert strong influence on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "Imagine that the election is won by not Kocharian, but other one. In that case, negotiations held during the Kocharian's presidency will be thrown into the archives. Azerbaijan will have to change its policy in the negotiation process with Armenia."
Eldeniz Yusifov, head of the Independent Ecological Research Center, in an interview with the newspaper "Hurriyyet" spoke about the ecological damage of the Gabala Radio Location Station. Yusifov said that the station's effects on nature can be seen in a number of ways. For example, trees are withering, and not only in Gabala, where the station is situated, but also in adjacent territories. Moreover, migrant birds no longer visit Gabala or do so rarely. Asked "What status could the station have to be considered favorable?" Yusifov suggested changing the use profile of the station. "In general, establishments constructed during the Soviet period are not planed for one purpose. Therefore the Gabala station could be transformed into a meteorological station or a transmission station between Europe and Asia." Yusifov pointed out that by signing such agreements, the Azerbaijani government is serving Armenia most of all. "Because under the agreement between Russia and Armenia information gathered at the Gabala station could be sent to Armenia. On the other hand, the fact that the station, which damages the environment and people's health, will still be working for 10 years is nothing else but 'ecological genocide.'"
Tale Esed in the article "Azerbaijan without football" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" notes that the long-running confrontation between the Azerbaijani soccer federation (AFFA) and the Azerbaijani government has left Azerbaijan without football. "Thanks to the government's 'wise and far-sighted' policy, Azerbaijan has disgraced itself in the international scene and before such world football organizations as FIFA and UEFA. Esed writes that the government, which has taken all establishments in Azerbaijan under its control, tried to do the same thing with AFFA. But it did not know, that AFFA is governed not from Azerbaijan, but from UEFA, headquartered in Zurich and Geneva-based FIFA and no one but these organization can hold presidential elections in AFFA.
Professor of chemistry Enver Nagiev said in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that there are a number of world-renowned petrochemical scientists in Azerbaijan. In particular, Vagif Abbasov, the inventor of various materials to prevent corrosion in oil pipes and oil wells. "These matters are known not only in Azerbaijan, but throughout the world." Nagiev, who teaches chemistry at school, also pointed out the shortcomings of current chemistry textbooks. "It is important not to rush to publish textbooks. Each theme must be submitted to teachers' attention."
Razi Abbasbeili in an article entitled "Bank game of the government" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that there are not a lot of banks in Baku. But these banks resemble more closely a "eating machine" than sound economic structures. Banks are considered to be "extortion mechanisms." Citizens still cannot get back deposits made during the Soviet period or after the country gained independence. Deposits from Soviet times are gathered at the former Saving Bank, but since that bank has merged with the Agrarian and Industrial Bank and the Joint-Stock Bank there is no concrete address where citizens can appeal to get their funds back. And now the IMF suggests privatizing the BUSbank, a grouping of three merged banks. According to the government, privatization of BUSbank and the International Bank will begin in the first quarter of 2003. Therefore, once these banks are privatized, there will be nowhere to go to get deposits back.
(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)