Drug trafficking

drug trafficking

Drug trafficking is an especially complex form of criminal activity, frequently involving multiple States and often overlapping with other offences, including financial crime and cybercrime. The fight against drug trafficking relies on effective operational cooperation between law enforcement and judicial authorities.

Eurojust helps national authorities to dismantle transnational drug trafficking networks and bring perpetrators to justice. The Agency aims to enhance cross-border cooperation to identify the entire criminal network and provides advice on how to use European judicial instruments and avoid conflicts of jurisdiction. Eurojust also facilitates efforts to detect and seize illegal substances, for example in the framework of a joint investigation team (JIT), and can help investigators to gather and exchange crucial information and evidence.

Challenges

Drug trafficking is a form of organised crime that continues to have major implications for the safety and well-being of EU citizens and society as a whole – through the corruption of officials, the laundering of the proceeds in the legal economy and environmental pollution from the waste of illicit drug production. Judicial cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking is essential and must involve all national authorities in the criminal justice system, from police, border and customs authorities to prosecutors, judges and prison authorities.

National authorities face a number of obstacles in judicial cooperation, however. Differences in substantive and procedural law can cause delays or even refusals to execute mutual legal assistance (MLA) requests, for example when the quantity of drugs involved is not considered significant by a Member State or when the substance in question is not illegal in a Member State. The same differences can also present obstacles to effective cooperation in the area of controlled deliveries – when consignments are allowed to cross State borders so authorities can identify those involved in the entire chain of the drug trafficking.

Eurojust casework on drug trafficking, 2016-June 2020

Click here or on image to view/download infographic.

Key tools and instruments

In drug trafficking cases, parallel investigations are particularly common. Cooperation between different national investigations ensures detection and disruption of the entire criminal organisation by prosecuting all phases of the drug trade (planning/organising, financing, production, processing, transport and distribution of drugs).

Eurojust encourages investigating the financial aspects of the drug trade to ensure that financiers and money launderers are also indicted and the assets of the members of the criminal organisation are seized. Some of the key judicial instruments facilitated by Eurojust include the European Investigation Order (EIO) and the European Arrest Warrant (EAW). Eurojust also assists in finding a solution to judicial problems related to special investigative techniques such as controlled deliveries, undercover operations and cross-border surveillance of members of organised crime groups (OCGs).

Eurojust holds coordination meetings where national authorities have an opportunity to meet and exchange information about the case, for example on the international network of the drug-trafficking OCG.

New Substances

New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) and (pre)precursors have become a rising area of concern to national Prosecution authorities. A new psychoactive substance is defined as 'a new narcotic or psychotropic drug, in pure form or in preparation, that is not controlled by the United Nations drug conventions, but which may pose a public health threat comparable to that posed by substances listed in these conventions'.

The most common challenges in cases about NPS are:

  • identification of the substance;

  • procedural and evidentiary difficulties;

  • horizontal distribution networks of the substances;

  • different legal provisions in Member States;

  • lack of legal basis; and

  • prominence of the internet.

Eurojust’s early involvement in NPS-related investigations and prosecutions helps to find case-specific and tailor-made cross-border solutions. In June 2018, Eurojust published an analysis report on judicial cooperation in NPS, which focuses on developments in Member States’ legislation, casework and operational experience with regard to the investigation and prosecution of NPS. The report is available to view here.

Cooperation with third countries

The involvement of third countries in drug trafficking cases is essential, particularly because the cultivation, production and transit process often involves third countries. Eurojust therefore encourages Member States to establish connections with third countries and facilitates this process. Inviting these countries to attend coordination meetings at Eurojust can be helpful in discussing legal and practical obstacles and finding solutions. Third countries with a cooperation agreement may post a Liaison Prosecutor to Eurojust to work side by side with National Members. Currently, eight Liaisons Prosecutors are posted at Eurojust. The Agency also has a network of Contact Points in judicial authorities in more than 50 countries all over the world.

Further information

Eurojust publishes information on its work in the fight against drug trafficking as part of its efforts to develop best practice and provide encouraging examples of the results of successful cooperation of the judicial authorities in combatting this crime type. For example, the January 2015 Implementation Report of Eurojust’s Action Plan on Drug Trafficking details Eurojust’s progress in enhancing its work. The report is based on data from a quantitative analysis of information on drug trafficking cases recorded in the Eurojust Case Management System (CMS). It can be viewed here. Three Addenda to the main report were also published, detailing Eurojust’s work in the following specific ‘focus issues’ relating to drug trafficking crimes:

  1. Cross-border controlled deliveries – available here.
  2. (Pre)precursors and New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) – available here.
  3. Cooperation with third countries – available here.

In 2021, Eurojust will publish a new casework report on international judicial cooperation in drug trafficking cases. This report will provide an overview of legal and operational challenges arising in the international judicial cooperation on drug trafficking crime cases and share best practices to overcome these challenges.

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