Elite US anti-drug agency to set up office in Dubai
Washington - The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the US government agency charged with tackling the global drug trade, is to open a permanent office in the Emirates, it has been announced.
DEA chief Karen Tandy said the new office would open in 2006 as part of the agency's continuing war against drug traffickers and, their possible links to international terrorist organizations.
Based in Dubai, the office will be staffed by two fulltime DEA agents and two support staff who will serve as liaison between DEA agents in the US and those who operate in other areas, such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The office would also assist police in the Emirates with drug investigations.
Until now, DEA investigations involving the region have been run from the administration's office in Islamabad, Pakistan. The DEA currently has 400 personnel stationed in 56 countries, including five special teams working in Afghanistan to destroy poppy crops, heroin laboratories and transportation networks.
Ms Tandy said by opening a permanent office in Dubai, the DEA would bolster its efforts "to take potentially billions in drug profits away from narcotics trafficking organisations and inflict enough damage to leave them unable to reconstitute their operations."
Because of its geographical position, booming economy and increasing importance as a world financial market, the Emirates is allegedly being targeted by drug gangs as a transhipment point for drugs on their way to Europe and the US. Last October, three Nigerian nationals were caught trying to smuggle 10 kilograms of heroin from Kabul, Afghanistan, to Europe via Dubai.
The region is allegedly being used by narcotics traffickers as an endpoint for hundreds of millions of dollars in illegally earned cash, much of it laundered using hawala.
The DEA's increased presence in the Emirates is part of continuing effort by the U.S. government to cripple gangs running heroin from Afghanistan, which produces around 80 per cent of the world's total heroin supply. The region is frequently used as a 'gateway country by gangs moving the drugs on to Europe and the U.S, as per allegations.
The DEA aims to tackle the region's drug problem by targeting both individual smugglers and, by identifying and seizing assets linked to them and the organisations that control the global drug trade. The new Dubai office will also offer support to the Bush administration's 'war on terror'. Ms Tandy said 21 of the 44 groups considered 'foreign terrorist organisations' by the U.S. had possible ties to the narcotics trade. She also revealed DEA agents had supplied intelligence to U.S. Special Forces operating in Afghanistan.
Although the Emirates has a relatively low number of drug addicts, authorities are recording increased seizures of drugs intended for consumption in the UAE.
More than 8,000 drug dealers have been arrested in the UAE since 1999. In June last year undercover police arrested three men in Deira who tried to sell nearly a kilogramme of heroin. The men two Nigerians and a Pakistani were sentenced to life (25 years) in jail. Four months later two women were apprehended at Dubai International Airport and found to be hiding heroin in their sanitary towels. They told officers of Dubai's AntiNarcotics Department they were to be paid $2,500 each to deliver the heroin to a dealer in the Emirates.
And in December, five men were sentenced to 15 years each for smuggling three kilograms of heroin into the country. The Dubai Court of First Instance heard they were planning to sell the drug in Dubai.
Michael Braun, DEA Chief of Operations, said recently increasing quantities of cocaine were also being shipped to the region from the notorious Tri-Border Area of Latin America, a region where the borders of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay meet. Braun said 'immense profits were being made by the region's drug traffickers, who could buy a kilogram of cocaine in the Tri-Border area for $6,000 and sell it for up to $150,000 in the region.
As well as the DEA, UAE authorities are also working closely with Interpol and the United Nations on the issue of international drug trafficking and, in May, the Emirates will be an observer at the International Drug Enforcement Conference being held in Montreal, Canada.