Russian mafias carve up drugs trade: The Bosnian war has forced crime clans to find new Balkan routes for smuggling heroin into Europe, writes Leonard Doyle

EAST EUROPEAN mafias are carving out new routes for smuggling hard drugs into West Europe, according to European drug intelligence officers. They say the war in Bosnia is blocking the traditional pipeline through the Balkans, forcing traffickers to shift their main overland route via East Europe.

Albanian clans from the Serbian province of Kosovo are also deeply involved in the heroin trade, and they use the profits to buy weapons which are smuggled back in preparation for conflict with the Serbs.

Heroin, produced mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Golden Triangle of south-east Asia, used to flow from Turkey via Yugoslavia to Western Europe. Tons of heroin are smuggled annually in customs- sealed TIR (International Road Transport) trucks. Now that the highway of Brotherhood and Unity from Belgrade to Zagreb is blocked, the traffickers are shifting the drugs to the north-east.

The heroin trade from Turkey and Iran follows at least three new routes, skirting the conflict in Bosnia and pushing north-east through Romania, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic. It is sometimes then divided into smaller packages before being trans-shipped to Germany, France and Britain, Europe's main consumers.

The new pattern showed up this year with a dramatic fall in heroin seizures in West Europe compared with 1992, and an even sharper rise in heroin seizures in East Europe, according to the international Customs Co-operation Council.

European drug intelligence officers say the new players are organised crime syndicates from the former Soviet Union, mostly Russians and Ukrainians. In addition, the Albanian clans have opened another route to funnel heroin to Switzerland and Germany. 'They move heroin westward and smuggle automatic and semi-automatic weapons purchased in Switzerland and Czechoslovakia back to Kosovo,' according to Alain Labrousse, head of the Geopolitical Observatory of Drugs in Paris.

There are reports of 'crime summits' in Warsaw and Prague, bringing together Russian underworld groups with the three main Italian organised crime groups - the Sicilian Cosa Nostra, the Calabrian Ndrangheta and the Neapolitan Camorra - and signalling to drugs intelligence agents a new carve-up in the European drugs trade.

The level of violence in Europe associated with drug trafficking and drug use has been much lower than in the United States, where arms are readily available to criminals. That is changing, the intelligence agents say, because mafia groups based in East Europe are trading in arms and controlling vast profits from drug- trafficking. Calling the new trend 'a genuine threat to society and political stability', Suzy Symes, head of the European Programme at Chatham House, said that the enormous profits from the drug trade would give these new organisations influence in Western society.

The Colombian cocaine cartels, meanwhile, are turning their attention to the single market of the European Union where profits are a third higher than in the US, where the risks of being caught are lower and the opportunities to launder the profits are infinitely more varied. Cocaine, mostly produced in Colombia, fetches around pounds 26,000 a kilo on the European market, compared to pounds 18,000 in the US.

The cocaine - some 300 tons a year, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration - is shipped in a variety of ways, but increasingly via Nigeria and Ghana. Nigerian drug couriers play an important role in getting both heroin and cocaine into Europe, but because of the likelihood of their being searched at airports, the Nigerian distributors have started recruiting Poles and Czechs to ferry the drugs in. The usual method is by swallowing up to 100 condoms filled with cocaine or heroin, which remain in the body for several days.

East European countries are increasingly used for trans-shipment because controls at their airports are lax and drug-dealing laws are either non-existent or barely enforced. From there, the cocaine is readily couriered across the German and other frontiers into the EU, where border controls are almost a thing of the past.

The most dramatic example of the shifting pattern of the cocaine trade was the seizure of 1.2 tons of the drug near the Finnish-Russian border last February. The drugs were being trans-shipped to the Netherlands for further distribution throughout the EU. The seizure points to a maturing and close relationship between Colombian drug cartels and East European crime syndicates, according to European drug trafficking experts.

According to Interpol, the new criminal gangs are organised along ethnic lines and include Russian, Ukranians, Chechens, Georgians, Armenians and Azeris. Interpol blames them for the boom in organised crime that stretches from the Atlantic to the Urals and includes arms- and drug-smuggling, stolen art trafficking, car theft, forgery and money laundering.

These mafia groups are entrenching themselves in European cities such as Helsinki, Prague, Warsaw, Berlin and Frankfurt, according to Rensselaer Lee, an American expert in the international drugs scene.

In recent testimony to Congress, Mr Lee said that the flourishing drugs and arms trade on the borders of the EU 'could set the stage for retaliatory customs and immigration barriers that would set back the cause of European integration. A flood of narcotics sweeping in could provoke protectionist reactions from European governments.' According to German police sources, some 30 Russian crime groups are operating in Germany, some comprising more than 300 members.

The route for the heroin manufactured in Asia's Golden Crescent lies through Turkey to the Albanian coast and on to Kosovo. From there, Albanian clans spirit the drugs to markets in Switzerland and Germany, and buy Kalashnikov rifles and Uzi sub-machine guns with the profits in preparation for a possible armed struggle with Serbia in Kosovo and possible unrest by the Albanian community in Macedonia.

Another disturbing trend is the emergence of Poland as the most important producer and exporter of amphetamines to the EU. Polish amphetamines are now the highest- quality drugs in Europe, often with 97 to 100 per cent purity, according to figures released by Swedish forensic laboratories. The amphetamines are sent to the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, to be distributed throughout West Europe, where seizures of Polish origin jumped from 6 per cent in 1989 to more than 25 per cent last year.

Marijuana use in Europe is also booming. Seizures of cannabis, from Morocco's Rif mountains and from Lebanon increased by 28 per cent last year, when the authorities confiscated some 26 tons.

Tomorrow: Arms trafficking

(Map omitted)

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Travel
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Sport
footballManchester City 1 Roma 1: Result leaves Premier League champions in danger of not progressing
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
News
i100
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
booksWell it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?