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New Rules to Stop Kazak Police Selling Drugs

Confiscated drugs will now be incinerated, although some analysts believe corrupt officers will find ways round it.
By Marik Koshabaev
The Kazak government has taken action to stop illegal drugs seized by the police from finding their way back into circulation. The decision constitutes a remarkable admission that some members of the police force plunder stocks of confiscated narcotics and sell them on to users. However, some analysts interviewed by IWPR were doubtful that it would be enough to foil corrupt policemen.

A government decree states that from December 1, Kazak police will be empowered to destroy the drugs they seize, rather than having to hold them intact as physical evidence for trial proceedings.

Askar Isagaliev, who heads the interior ministry’s committee for fighting the drugs trade, announced the move at a briefing in the capital Astana a week before it came into force.

Isagaliev said the ministry, which controls Kazakstan’s police force, was currently holding around 23 tons of narcotics, nearly 600 kilograms of it heroin.

The official said all these stocks could now be incinerated in special furnaces, and journalists as well as representatives of the police and judiciary would be invited to witness the process. Samples from each consignment seized will be held back for use as court evidence.

Kazakstan lies on the transit route for Afghan heroin heading to Russia and other European states. As in other countries through which drugs are trafficked, local sale and use is on the increase here, together with associated problems such as HIV transmission through shared needled.

The theft of impounded drug stocks for resale on the streets is public knowledge in Kazakstan. Interior ministry spokesman Bagdat Kodjakhmetov made it clear that stopping this illegal activity “was precisely the aim of our initiative”.

“Narcotics destruction will be recorded on video; in short, everything will be done to end the involvement of police in re-circulating drugs, which unfortunately does happen now,” he said.

A 65-year old retired police lieutenant-colonel told IWPR that some of his serving colleagues were involved in stealing drugs.

“I’d like to be able to claim that my colleagues aren’t part of this grubby business, but the facts tell a different story,” he said. “It is also widely known that police provide protection for the drugs trade.”

The former officer, who still has a close relative in the force, said procedures for storing confiscated drugs at police stations were lax.

In theory, an impounded drugs find should be placed in a special room that is then locked and sealed either by the officer on duty, or by the staff member responsible for security. In reality, they are passed from hand to hand by crime investigators, detectives and forensic experts as the case progresses. The police officer said this movement provided scope for tampering with the goods and the accompanying documentation.

“Batches of heroin consignments are adulterated with powdered sugar, or else they simply disappear altogether,” explained the former police commander. “That’s a consequence of the anarchy that prevails in today’s police force.”

IWPR interviewed Askar, a 44-year-old long-term drug user, who confirmed that addicts bought drugs supplied by policemen.

“A few years ago, a drug user introduced my friends to a former schoolmate who sold them several doses of heroin,” he said. “For close to six months they bought heroin from him in small doses of eight to ten grams. Then, by chance, one of my friends saw the guy in a police officer’s uniform…. My friends immediately stopped buying heroin from him.”

Askar said it was rare for policemen to be personally involved in retailing drugs on the street. Instead, they use dealers whom they keep supplied, and also provide them with protection.

The former lieutenant-colonel of police said he understood why the government had authorised the wholesale destruction of narcotics, but he expressed some doubt about how it would work in practice.

On the one hand, he said, the lack of drugs as evidence could derail court cases, and on the other, it might be hard to tell whether any of a confiscated batch was missing once it was reduced to ashes.

Vladislav Yuritsin, a journalist with the internet news site, believes corrupt police officers will find ways of getting their hands on confiscated narcotics before they go up in smoke.

“They could write a false report claiming the drugs had been destroyed… and put them back into circulation,” he said.

Like the ex-police officer, Yuritsyn warned that the absence of physical evidence could be a problem for the courts, “There’s no consignment as such, just a certificate of destriction, but questions would be asked – was it narcotics or baby powder? Hay or marijuana? And where are the kilograms?”

Political analyst and opposition activist Petr Svoik is similarly doubtful that policemen will stop getting their hands on illegal drug stocks.

“It’s an attempt to solve the problem by reducing the amount of time the police hold these drugs,” he said. “I don’t think it will come to anything, because whereas police used to have six months to get the drugs back into circulation, they’ll still be able to do it in a shorter space of time.”

Daur Dosybiev, a journalist who used to work as a criminal investigator, says the drug eradication policy would only become effective if corruption could be rooted out from all governing institutions in Kazakstan, not just the police. “And that’s utopian,” he added.

“It’s very difficult to hold back from taking on easy money when corruption is everywhere,” he said. “These days, when absolutely everything in Kazakstan is built around bribes and kickbacks, the police have acquired a diabolical image.”

Marik Koshabaev is a reporter in Almaty.

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