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Heroin and the Europe’s North East Borders

In 2010, the European Union established a multi-annual policy cycle. Its aim was to ensure that in the fight against serious international and organised crime there is effective cooperation between Member States law enforcement agencies, EU Institutions and EU Agencies.

Its purpose was to deliver a coherent and robust operational action plan, targeting the most pressing criminal threats facing the EU over a 4 year policy cycle.

The Serious and Organised Crime Threat Assessment (EU SOCTA), was developed by Europol and delivered a set of recommendations based on an in-depth analysis of the major crime threats facing the EU. The SOCTA has a core role in the policy cycle. From strategic priorities through to operational action, it ensures an intelligence-led approach will be at the heart of tackling the major criminal threats facing the EU. To achieve this, Europol analyses trends and patterns in current crime data but also looks further, scanning the environment for other factors that will influence crime during the four years of the policy cycle. This provides the basis for an evidential forecast of future threats to EU internal security.

The overall objective is to better understand organised crime methods in order to develop an operational action for disrupting and dismantling the activities of these groups and to reduce heroin trafficking in Europe.

In geographical terms organised crime activities in the EU are broken down around five key hubs. North West – centre of gravity: The Netherlands and Belgium, North East – centre of gravity: Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia and the Kaliningrad exclave (Russian Federation), South East – centre of gravity: Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, Southern – centre of gravity: Southern Italy, South West – centre of gravity: Spain and Portugal.

Identified in the report, criminals in the North East hub are active in cocaine trafficking, despite a lack of substantial local demand. In this region, in particular, the EU currently serves as a transit point for supply to the Russian Federation, with Lithuanian groups engaged in trafficking from Latin America via West Africa and the South West and North West hubs. While cheaper synthetic stimulants are currently more popular in the Baltic States, a greater availability of cocaine in the future may lead to a reduction in price and increased consumption. The report went on to say: Lithuanian organised crime groups are brokers for numerous illicit commodities in Northern and Western Europe and the Former Soviet Union. While concentrated in the North East hub, their influence extends to other Baltic countries, Nordic countries, Spain, for the sourcing of cocaine, and the Russian Federation and Ukraine, for the sourcing of precursors for synthetic drug production. Of note, Lithuanian groups have recently become an essential part of the supply chain to the North West hub, sourcing Russian Federation BMK for amphetamine production. As in the case of Albanian speaking organised crime, the comparative wealth of Lithuanian criminal groups increases their recruitment, retention, infiltration and investment capacities.
According to another report by the EU Special Committee on Organised Crime, Corruption and Money Laundering, the North East criminal hub in and around the Baltic countries is used for the ultimate distribution of drugs in the Nordic countries. Cocaine shipments, mainly from Ecuador and Colombia, transit Latvia en route to destinations in Scandinavia and Russia. The arrest in Ecuador in May 2009 (as part of operation ‘Baltic Strike’) of the leader and several accomplices of a Latvian organised crime group, on suspicion of organising the shipment of approximately 4000 kg of cocaine from Ecuador to the EU, serves as an illustration of the relevance of Latvia in cocaine trafficking to the EU and links between Latvian and Latin American traffickers.

In addition, outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs) like Hells Angels and Bandidos, are represented with chapters in Denmark, as they are in several South American countries. In Denmark these gangs are heavily involved in organised crime, especially in the import and distribution of illegal drugs. They are believed to be connected to large quantity imports of cocaine from South America to Denmark.
In 2013 SOCTA provided the basis on which Council agreed nine SOC priorities for 2013-2017. Each one of these priorities was translated into Multi-annual Strategic Plans (MASP) defining the strategic goals to achieve. In order to achieve these strategic goals, operational action plans were designed, and nine EMPACT projects were launched to coordinate actions by Member States and EU organisations against the identified threats.

The nine EMPACT projects are Facilitation of Illegal Immigration , Trafficking in Human Beings , Counterfeit Goods , Excise and MTIC Fraud , Synthetic Drugs , Cocaine and Heroin , Illicit Firearms Trafficking , Organised Property Crime and Cybercrime.
Each of the projects is funded by the European Commission collaborating with Europol to organise information exchange activities between the different European security forces.
The projects are being carried out within the framework of a grant from EMPACT and the project will work on practical cases to address known threats and strengthen European Union borders.
In 2015 as part of the EMPACT Cocaine and Heroin project it was planned for increased customs activity on the Eastern Border of the EU within the North East hub.

As traffickers become ever more ingenious in disguising their contraband, border officials need an array of high tech equipment to combat them. As part of the operation it was planned to use a number of technologies including portable X-ray systems at customs control.

X-ray scanners have become an indispensible tool for customs and border officers and border crossings the world over. Three countries along the heroin route are collaborating to foster better police cooperation.

Officials from Latvia Customs Police Department, who were in charge on this operation, were looking for the most suitable system for their needs and budget. After considering several systems from different manufacturers, they decided to choose a 3DX-RAY system.
Mr. Liron Naor, International Sales Manager at 3DX-RAY said “Our innovative ThreatScan-LS1 system is a game changer in the portable inspection market. Until now you had to choose one of two options: if you wanted a large imaging area at an affordable price you had to use a heavy detector and X-ray generator, which are not designed for working in the field and offer low image quality; f you wanted a thinner and ruggedized system with high image quality you needed to pay two or three times the price and some clients simply don’t have that sort of budget.

In customs or borders control, having a system that does not allow you to see all the details of the inspected object might not just result in missed contraband but in the case of EOD/IED operations, it might also result in the loss of human life. The Threatscan-LS1 can solve this dilemma!

Firstly it has a large imaging area (600 x 460 mm) which means that you can scan a larger area of cars, trucks, motorcycles and large items like suitcases etc. The imaging area starts only 3mm from the bottom, which means there is almost no part of the object that is not scanned, otherwise known as a dead zone.

Despite the large imaging area, the ThreatScan-LS1 is surprisingly very light, only 5 kg, is robust and weather resistant. It is also very thin, 25mm, which means it is able to slide behind difficult to access objects. It has a very high resolution and will work for up 16 hours on only 1 battery charge without an external power source which is really important on operations and is something that most of our competitors are unable offer. Wireless connectivity comes as standard and it can work for up to 100m distance line of site without the need for any additional device. If needed, we offer repeaters to extend the wireless distance.

Another important factor in the success of the ThreatScan-LS1 is the X-ray source. The exclusive I-Gen X-ray generator is a battery-operated, portable, compact, robust, IP65 rating and user-friendly X-ray generator designed for rapid on-site deployment. It weighs only 6kg and will operate for 20 minutes at full power – this is equivalent to over 180 shots. The I-Gen is oil filled, which means that unlike other sources that contain gas, it is intrinsically safe; clearly something that is very important when working with explosives. It also means that it is suitable for all modes of transportation internationally without a requirement for additional dangerous goods documentation and associated expense.”

After finishing a successful operation, officials from Latvia Customs Police Department stated that: “The device is very smart and well-designed, easy to use and answered all their operational needs.”

Mr. Liron Naor went on to say that, “Besides the portable systems, which are great for inspecting bags or vehicles parts, there is also an increased interest for another 3DX-RAY solution, the SVXI, which is a rapid deployment mobile vehicle x-ray inspection system suitable for vehicles up to the size of a small van. Designed to meet the needs of security and customs personnel, SVXI produces sub-millimetre resolution images of the vehicle in a single pass.
The operator is able to control the scan and view the images from a remote laptop workstation. Sophisticated easy to use software allows the operator to zoom, pan and process the image to be able to make a rapid and accurate assessment of any potential risk.
The advantage of these systems is obvious as thorough physical searches of vehicles can take anything up to 8 hours, and a similar time to rebuild the vehicle. The 3DX-RAY SVXI vehicle scanner and portable inspection systems allow security personnel to see inside vehicles, even sealed units, in minutes.”

“We continue to work very closely with our customers to understand their operational requirements and ensure that they receive the highest level of service.”

For further information please contact:
3DX-RAY Ltd, Sales Team,
+44 (0)1509 817400