Drug smugglers increasingly targeting 'lucrative' European market
A senior official with Europol, the EU crime-busting agency, has voiced concern about "worrying" new trends in the illegal drugs market.
Speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, Patrick Byrne also said that the "DNA" of drug smugglers had changed in recent years.
"They are becoming more clever and more sophisticated in their methods than ever before," said Byrne, assistant director for the operations department at Europol.
He also said drug traffickers, including Mexican cartels, were continuing to target the "lucrative" drugs market in Europe, increasing trying to get a foothold using routes via the Balkan.
Byrne was speaking at a joint news conference with Russell Benson, a regional director with the US drug enforcement administration (DEA).
The two men were outlining current drug trafficking trends, both in Europe and the US.
Europol, based at The Hague in the Netherlands, has come under fire in some quarters for an alleged lack of impact in the fight against organised crime, including drug dealing.
But Byrne said the agency, which employs 700 police officers from 27 member states, had had a "real" impact since it became a fully-fledged EU agency in 2010.
Since then its budget has risen to nearly €93m and, in 2010, it supported 12,000 cross-border law enforcement investigations.
Byrne outlined various areas of concern, including an increasing use of violence by drug smuggling gangs which is described as a "worrying trend".
"These gangs are quite indiscriminate and impervious to the harm they cause," said the Irish official.
Another problem, he said, was cyber crime, adding, "This is a particular threat and a growing area."
The economic recession has also had an impact on drug trends, he said, with some users moving to synthetic drugs.
"These may be cheaper but they still deliver the same devastating harm," he said.
Benson said that both the United States and EU member states are "confronted with a diverse and ever-changing drug trafficking environment".
"This is characterised by a rise in ton shipments of cocaine transiting Africa destined for EU countries and the emergence of new, deadly synthetic substances.
"DEA has conclusively linked approximately 39 per cent of the US state department designated foreign terrorist organisations to the drug trade.
"The reason is clear: drug trafficking is the most lucrative criminal enterprise in the world."
He said that recent court cases such as the civil judgment against the Lebanese-Canadian Bank for money laundering activities and the drug-terrorism conviction of an associate of the group Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) have "demonstrated the direct link between terrorist organizations, such as AQIM, Hezbollah, and FARC, and global drug trafficking networks".
The annual report of Europol, covering the 12-month period up to the end of 2010, said that since its launch the agency had gained "momentum" in fulfilling its mandate of tackling serious crime.