Seychelles anti-narcotics agency targets ill-gotten assets with setting up of new unit
Crest of the NDEA (Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - Almost seven years after it was established with a mission to curtail drug trafficking in Seychelles, the National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA) is broadening its mandate, employing more resources and efforts to identify and seize ill-gotten assets relating to drug trafficking.
A new ‘Field Investigation Unit’ became operational two months ago and is currently being run by eight full-time agents with the support of other resources that is available to the NDEA, including the assistance of the dog unit.
In an interview with SNA, the NDEA’s Chief Officer Niall Scully explained that the new focus is important, after having spent the last couple of years targeting drug trafficking that has seen hundreds of thousands of drugs seized and the subsequent arrest of those involved in the trade.
Targetting ill-gotten assets regardless of who owns them
“What we see is that a small number of individuals are massing large amount of wealth and assets which are directly derived from drug dealing and criminality…the new unit has the sole purpose of targeting the criminally gained assets of criminals involved in the drug trade in Seychelles… What they are looking at is everything from cars, trucks, business, houses and money that is derived from dealing in drugs,” says Scully.
The NDEA’s Chief Officer adds that the target is ‘the asset’ regardless of who owns it as long as evidence suggest the beneficial owner is a drug dealer.
“Quite often people are being duped into taking on a car or a business or money and they are actually being involved in a crime…and are involved in money laundering….In situations where they cooperate with us we will also take a different view on it but if they are not cooperating and continue to hide or to protect the criminals, they will also become target of our investigation and also subject to possible criminal charges.”
Field Investigation Unit and Financial Investigation Unit collaboration
Targeting ill-gotten assets is not at all new to the work of the NDEA, in fact the new unit is aimed at building up on something that the anti-narcotics agency was already doing in conjunction with the Financial Investigation Unit (FIU) [an independent statutory body responsible for ensuring compliance with Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism legislation].
“In terms of the tracing money, the money trail, we have the full support of the FIU and they have considerable expertise looking at the money trail…when we do a trafficking case we always look at the assets, we gather information and pass it on to the Financial Investigation Unit which then advances the case...what we are doing now is while investigating drug trafficking we are also going hard on the proceeds of crime and the assets those people have…basically it’s more of a concentration of efforts.”
|NDEA Agent and a sniffer dog searching newly arrived cargo for drugs at the Seychelles International Airport (NDEA) Photo License: CC-BY|
NDEA dog handler checking recently arrived aircraft for drugs at the International Airport (NDEA) Photo License: CC-BY
According to the Money laundering Act of Seychelles, a person found guilty for money laundering is liable to pay a fine not exceeding 5 million Seychelles rupees or around $395 thousand or face a prison term of less than fifteen years or both.
The Field Investigation Unit is said to be finalizing work on several cases at the moment, which are expected to be brought before the courts soon.
Although the process of seizing illegal assets can be quite long in Seychelles, the NDEA feels there is ample legislation in place to deal with such cases.
Scully says the agents of the new unit have been trained by instructors from abroad on aspects of asset tracking and tracing and have at hand expert advice in the fields of accounting to legal expertise in relation to criminal proceeds which are relevant when targeting illegal assets.
Operation targetting middlemen has been successful
Drug trafficking and drug use particularly heroin remain a major concern in the island nation.
Figures released in a study carried out by the Seychelles Ministry of Health on drug users in 2011 showed that heroin was used in injection form by some 1000 heroin drug users in the country.
These statistics were used in a 2013 global report on drugs by the United Nations, which stated that Seychelles had one of the highest proportions of intravenous drug users worldwide.
According to the Seychelles Ministry of Health, drug use in Seychelles is also “causing significant health and social challenges.”
One of the most recent initiative launched aiming to rid the island nation of drug users is a three-month campaign dubbed ‘Netwayaz’ [clean up in the traditional Creole language] launched in September by the Seychelles Ministry of Home Affairs, targeting mainly the middlemen so as to paralyze the distribution of drugs at the community level.
The NDEA has also been assisting the operation along with officers of the Seychelles People Defence Forces and the regular police targeting well known hotspots.
“The operation in general has been very successful. We have not completely cleared the areas of drug use but I would suggest 90-95% has been successful,” says Scully.
The operation also includes a support programme for the addicts, where they can voluntarily accept to go for detoxification and later join a rehabilitation programme.
$14 million worth of drugs seized so far in 2015
In 2014, the National Drugs Enforcement Agency reported the seizure of illegal drugs worth around $3 million with over 87 kg of illegal substances seized, surpassing its 2013 figures by around 150 percent
So far in 2015 drugs seized amount to 39 kg of heroin, 61 kg of cannabis products and 1,690 cannabis plants with a total estimated value of over $14 million (178.5 million Seychelles rupees).
Being islands in the Indian Ocean, the Seychelles’ borders are porous as traffickers seek to bring in illegal goods such as drugs on boats and planes, under the noses of customs officers.
According to the UNODC the delivery by sea, of heroin and other drugs to Africa, Europe and Asia has seen a dramatic shift towards the Southern route in recent years.
The organisation states that traffickers are using dhows sailing from the Makran coast between Iran and Pakistan to transport the narcotics adding that the consignments are then transferred to smaller vessels destined for the East African coast.
The UNODC believes that the region is attractive to international drug trafficking organisations seeking to exploit non-existent or ineffective border [land, sea and air] controls, limited cross border and regional co-operation as well as serious deficiencies in the criminal justice systems.
NDEA contributes to regional networking to identify traffickers
Seychelles is among regional countries that have realized the potential threat and have been taking the initiative the address it.
The NDEA has been playing a key role in contributing to adopt a new strategic approach, which seeks to bring together all of the drug enforcement agencies from countries in the region. A series of conferences and workshops have been organized recently in Seychelles, Tanzania and Sri Lanka bringing together representatives of some 20 regional countries during which it was agreed to develop cooperation to be able to share information on the identification, movement and activities of suspects and drug seizures.
|Delegates attending the National Crime Agencies drug Conference at the Eden Bleu Hotel in Seychelles as part of the regional networking to tackle drug trafficking. (NDEA) Photo License: CC-BY|
“For a long time we’ve been working on distribution and importation within the country now this is no longer possible. So we’ve taken the step to work with UNODC and British National Crime Agency to work together to share information and meeting on a regular basis to identify the main traffickers, examine their travel patterns and their connections here in the country,” NDEA’s Deputy Chief Officer Liam Quinn, NDEA told SNA.
Quinn adds that in order for them to take control of that situation, it is necessary to be proactive outside of the shores of Seychelles, to try and stump the flow of drugs into the country.
He says these partnerships are beneficial now that drug traffickers have very sophisticated methods of disguise drugs, for example cocaine can be liquidated or turn into solids such as plastic chips.
The network between countries will also help the NDEA in its search for five Seychellois drug dealers who are believed to have fled the country recently after the seizure of their drug consignment.
“We have been in contact with the countries where we believe those people are, we have circulated their description, we have worked with Interpol.. so that if and when they move from those countries and they are encountered we will be notified.”