Police Collude In Georgian Drug Trade

Georgia's growing drug problem is affecting all branches of society - even the police.

Police Collude In Georgian Drug Trade

Georgia's growing drug problem is affecting all branches of society - even the police.

In an apartment block in Tbilisi, five young men, all doing different things with their lives, have one thing in common - they're involvement with drugs.

Their story illustrates the extent of Georgia's drug crisis. The Georgian health ministry estimates that there are between 150 - 200,000 addicts in the country. All social classes are affected, with the police blatantly profiting from the scourge.

Vakhtang, 27, an artist from a prosperous family, said most of the young men he knows have taken heroin at least once. "The first time I tried heroin was three years ago. I was at my friend's place and we were smoking pot, when one of the guys sitting there asked whether we would like to get something stronger, " he said. " The others agreed and I thought it would be no harm if I tried it too."

It was not long before Vakhtang, had a run-in with the police. After buying some heroin from a dealer, he was stopped by officers who asked him to show them his veins. He put the incident - which left him having to pay 500 US dollars to avoid registration with the city police as a drug user - down to bad luck.

But the police, it seems, are doing nothing to tackle the problem.

An officer and a neighbour of Vakhtang told IWPR, on conditions of anonymity, that he and his colleagues take bribes from addicts they detain. "We take a certain amount for every case, depending on the person's background and the frequency of his drug use. The money ranges from 500 to 1000 US dollars," he said.

The police get tips from their informers, who are addicts and dealers themselves. Once caught red-handed, these men either have to go to prison for dealing, or pay a lot of money to the officer. "I was caught several times and they knew they wouldn't get any money from me, so they just told me I could cooperate with them, and get free drugs," said Irakli, 35, an addict for six years, who is also one of Vakhtang's neighbours.

Irakli, currently unemployed, gets his doses of heroin by doing some risky legwork for the wealthier drug users. "They sent me to the countryside to buy drugs, where they're relatively cheap - but once I was caught by the police and decided not to do this kind of job in future," he said. "They told me I could have free drugs in future if I gave them tips on the wealthy guys who buy heroin. I didn't at the beginning, but I agreed two months later, because I needed the drugs urgently."

Irakli, a pleasant smiling man, who loves to talk about politics and the future of Georgia, said he had his own code of conduct. "I am trying not to harm people I know," he said. " I would never give the police any information on my friends, or neighbours. It is like a family…"

Another of Vakhtang's neighbours, David, 25, is an economist with a very good position, who first attracted the attention of the police a year ago, when they caught him and made him pay 300 dollars.

David was trapped by a police informer who sold him some heroin. The following day officers turned up at his work place. "It was obvious that someone who knew that I'd bought a dose of heroin had informed the police," he said. "They openly approached me in front of my colleagues and said that they had clear indication that I am taking heroin. After that I was taken to the police station."

The blood test showed up presence of the drug. With new technology, the police are now able to detect traces of heroin even three days after it has been consumed. The police knew that David would be desperate not to be registered as a drug user and so they asked him for a bribe of 1000 dollars. "After some bargaining and mentioning my connections I was able to bargain the 'fine' down to 1000 dollars," he said.

Giorgy, 21, who had only ever tried heroin twice, was luckier. One evening he was stopped in the street by the police and taken to the local station.

At the station officers from the drugs section questioned him for a couple of hours. "Finally one of them said we should have a break and offered me a glass of water," he continued. "I was exhausted and I was staring at water for the minute. When I was about to drink it, a man passed by the room." The man, a friend of Giorgy's mother, intervened, told him not to drink the water and took him home.

The gesture had been a trap. The police officer, who agreed to talk to IWPR on conditions of anonymity, said, "We don't use the water trick all too often. Only if we can't prove anything." The device is simple. A person is offered a glass of water mixed with a small dose of heroin that does not change the taste. Then it only needs a drug test to show up traces of it.

The police officer said they keep the drugs in their safe at the station, either to give out to their informants or to put in the water. He said he felt no embarrassment about the methods he and his colleagues used against drug abusers, "They are either drug addicts, or kids from wealthy families. Most of their parents are corrupt, and we are doing them no harm, when we ask them for some pay-off."

The four victims complain about the uncivilised methods officers used against them, but let incidents go. "We all survive somehow, and also manage to live in one block," said Irakli, as we talked at his birthday party.

"What can you expect in a country where statehood doesn't exist as such?" the police officer, who also appeared at the party to congratulate Irakli, asked? "I am just a logical result of state policy."

All five men were quite friendly to each other, but when the police officer left the party the situation became more relaxed. David took out a matchbox, half full of marijuana and offered it round to the guests. "Good stuff," he said. " Just got it from my relative in Svanetia."

Eka Anjaparidze is the pseudonym of a journalist working in Tbilisi.

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