The war against cocaine

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

In a crackdown against the drug trade between the Netherlands and the Dutch Antilles, the authorities have taken some radical steps, but are they winning the war against cocaine smuggling?

Detention centres

The Labour (PvdA), Liberals (VVD) and Democrats 66 (D66) coalition government decided to take radical action last year as a furore erupted over the alarming rise in drug smuggling suspects passing through Schiphol airport. The situation threatened to turn into a crisis when it emerged that suspects were being released due to a lack of detention cells.

 Emergency legislation was passed in March 2002 enabling the establishment of temporary drug smuggler detention centres and four jails have since been established at Roermond, Bloemendaal, Zeist and Heerhugowaard.

A new government was appointed mid way through 2002. It asked parliament to extend the legislation by two years last December after acting Christian Democrats (CDA) Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner said a structural solution to the problem had not yet been found.

Passenger refusals

The Netherlands also resolved last year to intensify checks on flights to and from the Dutch Antilles and Aruba. These stricter controls were brought into force on 15 April 2002.

A KLM spokesman said justice officials give negative travel advice on passengers suspected of smuggling drugs and KLM is obliged to refuse them permission to board flights to and from Curacao.

In response, KLM said about 6,000 people have been refused permission to board their Curacao-bound flight since 15 April 2002. The spokesman said 1,500 people have been refused passage from Amsterdam to Curacao.

The number of people not turning up for their flight has also increased. Some 12,500 people failed to show up for their Curacao flight between 15 April 2002 and 2 February 2003. The average was 5,000 prior to the new checks. About 8,000 people failed to show up for their Curacao-Amsterdam flight — more than double the average of 3,000.

The KLM spokesman said the refusals policy cost the airline a large, but unspecified, amount of money until it changed its refund policy in October 2002 and passengers who are refused boarding permission are no longer refunded the cost of their ticket.

Body scanner

In response to the intensified pre-flight controls, an August 2002 court ruling also said passengers must be given an immediate opportunity to prove their innocence.

A body scanner costing EUR 95,000 was given to Antillean authorities, but health concerns led to its use being delayed.

The deputy radiology chief at the Curacao St Elisabeth Hospital, J Reeders, said up to four body scans with the aging machine might be needed to reveal whether suspects were smuggling drugs in their stomach. This would expose them to unhealthy levels of radiation, Reeders said.

But Justice Minister Donner rejected the claims in January and the World Health Organisation (WHO) approved the use of the body scanner for two months while authorities seek an alternative. That time limit can be extended.

Five suspected drug smugglers volunteered to be screened by the new scanner at the Curacao airport on Tuesday 11 February, the first time the device was used.

The scan proved their innocence, but 33 passengers who refused a screening were not allowed to board the flight. Seven were scanned on Wednesday, six of whom were proved innocent.

The KLM spokesman said a body scanner is not needed at Schiphol airport because the drug trade is one-way.

Arrests and greater surveillance

The number of drug couriers arrested at Schiphol rose sharply to 2,165 last year, 867 of whom were so-called bolletjesslikkers, people who transport drugs inside their bodies. This is in comparison with the approximated 800 arrests in 2000 and 1,223 in 2001.

The total amount of drugs seized at Schiphol last year came to 6,343kg, most of which was cocaine.

Dutch authorities have also decided to delay the arrest of people suspected of carrying drugs through Schiphol in order track them to their supply points. They are also directly investigating the money flows inherent in drug trafficking.

"The smuggling of narcotics via Schiphol airport completely justifies an extremely powerful and harsh approach," Donner said last year.

Detention cells

There are presently 879 drug smuggling detainees housed in the four temporary jails set up last year, but the situation in the emergency jails had reportedly led to explosive and irresponsible situations.

An evaluation report from research bureau ES and E claimed in December that safety is at threat due to the detention of between two and eight people in one cell. It said prison guard inexperience combined with the boredom and unrest of detainees was exacerbating the problem.

But a Justice Ministry spokeswoman said this week the situation had since improved. She said the report had referred to the situation during the summer of 2002 and that prison guards were now more experienced and more cells had become available.

The spokeswoman also said prisoners were now being offered day programs and the present situation was relaxed.

She said there were only two men allowed to be confined to a cell, or four to six women. Capacity is expected to be expanded to slightly more than 1,000 cell places later this year.

To combat overcrowding Donner also said 81 suspects were sent home last year and summoned to court later. All had permanent addresses in the Netherlands.

In addition, the government also started last month deporting drug smugglers who are not Dutch nationals. Their cases will be dealt with in the Netherlands and they will also have to serve their sentences here.

Ongoing costs as the fight continues

The cost of the government's cocaine crackdown was EUR 95.6 million in 2002. That equated to EUR 150 per day, per detainee and includes the costs of arrest, legal proceedings and detention.

The Justice Ministry spokeswoman said the costs in 2003 was expected to be EUR 83 million.

Donner said in September last year that there was no substantial levelling off in the number of arrests and in presenting last year's arrest figures in January, the minister said bolletjesslikkers were still a big problem. The fight, it seems, continues.

February 2003

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