Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by HM Customs and Excise

  1.  This memorandum is in response to the invitation from the Home Affairs Select Committee to give evidence to its inquiry "The Government's drugs policy: Is it Working?".


  2.  HM Customs and Excise (HMCE) is at the centre of the Government's efforts to reduce drug supply. It is the lead agency in support of the Financial Secretary's position as Minister accountable for the Availability leg of the strategy. In tackling the problem we have taken a strategic approach, treating drugs trafficking as a business and targeting opportunities to discourage and reduce the trade throughout the supply chain. In accordance with the Government's drugs strategy priority is given to Class "A" drugs, particularly heroin and cocaine.

  3.  As well as focusing clearly on Class "A" drugs and related funding flows we direct our efforts at taking out significant bulk consignments of drugs—at all stages in the supply chain including at the UK frontiers, and having those responsible caught and punished. In this way we are having a bigger impact on the supply of drugs to the UK. We also aim to reduce the profitability of drug trafficking by tackling all three strands of the money side of the drugs trade:

    —  border detections of cash;

    —  drugs-related money laundering; and

    —  asset confiscation.

  4.  The Government's drug strategy has posed a considerable challenge. For the first time we are committed to intercepting Class "A" drugs and money to an extent necessary to have a real impact in reducing supply. Success depends on a co-ordinated/multi-agency/end-to-end strategic approach.

  5.  The drugs business has the following stages or structure:

  6.  Our work upstream of the UK frontier, in partnership with law enforcement agencies overseas, is a major plank of our strategy. It is here that we can often hit traffickers when they are more vulnerable and are moving larger quantities.


  7.  HMCE chairs the Concerted Inter-agency Drugs Action (CIDA) group, which has developed an end- to-end strategy to tackle the drug trafficking business at all the above stages. The group drives the work of the various agencies to remove any overlaps or gaps in enforcement effort.

  8.  CIDA comprises representatives from all government departments and agencies who have a role in reducing drug availability; including HM Customs and Excise, the National Crime Squad (NCS), the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency (SDEA), the Metropolitan Police, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the former UK Anti-Drug Co-ordinator's Unit, Home Office, Cabinet Office, FCO, and other agencies.

  9.  CIDA has developed comprehensive action plans to tackle heroin and cocaine which bring together action in the following areas:

    —  intelligence and interdiction operations in key heroin and cocaine source and transit regions;

    —  diplomatic initiatives including programmes to develop law enforcement capabilities in source and transit regions and support for illicit crop monitoring;

    —  activity to improve our knowledge of cocaine and heroin distribution and identify and address gaps in current knowledge;

    —  targeting of major heroin and cocaine traffickers who impact on the UK;

    —  distribution activity targeted at middle market and local level dealers and distributors;

    —  depriving criminals of the proceeds of their crimes and disrupting the movement of drug-related money flows; and

    —  activity against pre-cursor chemicals.

  10.  CIDA is examining the scope for a similar approach to Class "A" synthetic drugs (ecstasy), and is developing a specific operational approach to the problems posed by the cocaine which feeds the UK crack market.

  11.  There is excellent co-operation between the agencies through CIDA and a truly joined up approach is being taken with agencies at all levels working to reduce drugs availability.


  12.  About 45 per cent of HMCE Law Enforcement effort is devoted to combating Class "A" drugs, divided into Detection, Investigation and Intelligence functions.

  13.  The Detection function of Customs and Excise is responsible for anti-smuggling controls in respect of drugs and other prohibited goods, principally at the frontier. Investigation are the criminal investigation arm of Customs and Excise. Their main responsibilities in the area of drugs offences are the investigation of significant detections of drugs and related organised criminal groups and the identification and confiscation of proceeds of crime.

  14.  To ensure our operations have maximum impact all drugs investigations include an investigation into the finances of traffickers with the aim of depriving them of the illicit proceeds of their crime and ensuring that investigations have maximum impact.

  15.  The Investigation and Intelligence functions play a key role in the CIDA strategies and work in partnership with the CIDA agencies and law enforcement agencies overseas to disrupt the flow of drugs to the UK and related proceeds. The Intelligence function provides intelligence support across the range of Customs' activities through the provision of strategic, tactical and operational intelligence to inform the Department's activity against drug trafficking.

  16.  In conjunction with the CIDA agencies and intelligence agencies overseas, Intelligence are undertaking projects to gain a better understanding of the drugs market to support the planned operational activity. One aspect of this is a project to map out and quantify cocaine and heroin flows to the UK which will provide the opportunity to attack trafficking at the most vulnerable points in the UK and overseas.


  17.  Intelligence also have responsibility for deployment and operation of Custom's overseas network of Drugs Liaison Officers. We have 61 officers deployed in 41 key drug source and transit regions throughout the world with further posts planned. These officers contribute intelligence to support overseas and UK investigations. They also provide assistance to host agencies in support of the programmes of joint activity set up by CIDA. DLO activity has contributed to the seizure of substantial amounts of heroin and cocaine destined for UK markets.

  18.  The International Assistance Unit of HMCE co-ordinates the provision of drugs-related technical assistance to customs administrations overseas by way of short term consultancies, training and long terms placements. This assistance covers a range of activities including intelligence training, surveillance and risk profiling in support of the CIDA strategies and the development of applicant countries to the EU.

  19.  Many drug trafficking investigations involve working closely with law enforcement authorities overseas. Customs and Excise have built up excellent working relations with many overseas authorities and are one of the main users of Europol. Our liaison with overseas agencies works very well and allows us to maximise the impact of our drugs investigations on international drug trafficking organisations.


  20.  The financial aspects of crime have been given an increasingly high priority by HMCE. The seizure of cash at the borders, investigations into money laundering and seeking confiscation orders wherever possible, have made and will continue to make, a vital contribution towards reducing the availability of Class "A" drugs in the UK. We have made major inroads in disrupting drugs money laundering organisations and have substantially increased the number disrupted this year.

  21.  The Proceeds of Crime Bill will have a positive impact on our powers to attack the profit motive of drug trafficking and make a positive contribution to reducing drug smuggling. The proposed powers will enable us to deprive criminals of more of their profits, increase the amount of drug-related cash forfeited as a result of seizures at borders and make greater use of financial investigation to trace assets and prosecute those involved in money laundering. New powers to seize cash found anywhere in the UK (no just at borders as at present) will enable us to seize significant additional sums of drugs money, which will severely disrupt organisations involved in drug trafficking and associated money laundering.

  22.  The ability to seek orders to require banking institutions to identify accounts of people under investigation and monitor suspect accounts will further enhance our capability.

October 2001

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