Africa: International Crime, 01/26/97

Africa: International Crime, 01/26/97

Africa: International Crime
Date Distributed (ymd): 970126
Document reposted by APIC

The following document consists of a slightly condensed version of an article ("United against the Creeps") published in Living Africa magazine, November 1996, Johannesburg, South Africa. Living Africa, a monthly travel magazine, is at PO Box 281723, Suite 401, 4th Floor, West Tower, Sandton 2146, South Africa; Phone 27-11-884-7344.

Special Report: Both the FBI and the US Drug Enforcement Administration will post permanent agents in South Africa next year. THOMAS CALLAHAN explains why South Africa can't go it alone in the fight against crime.

# # # Thomas J. Callahan ( is South Africa Program Director for the International Republican Institute. >From 1992-95, he was Director of African Affairs at the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He has lived in Johannesburg since December 1995. This article was written in his personal capacity, and does not necessarily represent the views of IRI. For more information, contact Callahan at IRI, 20 Melle St., 2nd Fl., Braamfontein 2001, South Africa. Tel: 27-11-403-8956; Fax: 27-11-339-3368.

On a Sunday morning not long ago, I was strolling down Rockey Street in the Yeoville section of Johannesburg. In the half kilometre between the Time Square Cafe and Rockerfeller's Nite Club, I was approached three times by drug dealers. Granted, I have a beard and was overdue for a haircut, but this was ridiculous.

I was already annoyed after the first two solicitations when a skinny guy in a rasta hat hissed at me and approached. I responded to him with a loud, "What's that? Oh, you're a drug dealer, is that it?" His eyes darted back and forth a few times and, possibly thinking I was a PAGAD member with a box of matches, he took a step back and said, "No, no man! Not drugs, just ganja!" [N.B.: PAGAD is abbreviation for People Against Gangsterism and Drugs, a virulent vigilante group in the Western Cape which burned to death one high profile drug lord in the Cape Flats area near Cape Town.]

The story always gets a laugh, but that comical little fellow who pretended he wasn't a real drug dealer is but the tip of an enormous iceberg whose mass lurks dangerously near.

The fact that South Africa has a growing drug problem, and, more generally, a major crime problem, is not exactly fresh news. But, the size, sophistication, complexity and reach of the international syndicates that employ my ganja-peddling friend and hundreds of thousands like him may come as a shock.

Leading law enforcement agencies around the world have concluded that international crime can only be fought internationally, and they are eager to assist South Africa. This is not "foreign aid" in the altruistic sense. Rather, foreign governments view South Africa as a linchpin country for emerging international crime syndicates whose deadly reach extends far into their own countries.

"Grave crime is no longer bound by the constraints of borders. Such offenses as terrorism, nuclear smuggling, organised crime, computer crime and drug trafficking can spill over from other countries into the United States."

US FBI Director Louis Freeh made this statement in March 1996 to the members of the US Senate Committee on Appropriations, the committee which controls the expenditure of US government resources. The topic of the hearing was international organised crime, and he argued persuasively for the generous funding of FBI field offices abroad: "One of the most effective ways to fight international crime is by building cop-to-cop bridges between American law enforcement and our overseas counterparts. More and more of these bridges are being built, and successes are flowing from them." The FBI has agents serving in 23 nations. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is even more internationally oriented, with 70 offices in 49 countries worldwide. Both agencies are planning to post senior agents to South Africa on a permanent basis in 1997.

Many other countries have law enforcement liaison officers in their embassies here, and numerous exchanges, conferences, technical assistance and training seminars involving foreign crime fighters are occurring. It is an ominous indication of the degree to which South Africa is considered one of those countries most vulnerable to international criminal operations. The spectre of Colombia and Nigeria, whose basic government institutions were undermined and corrupted by criminal organisations, fuels the desire of experienced international law enforcement to provide timely and useful support for South Africa.

On the drug front, the problem is bad and is likely to get worse. South Africa's status as a narcotics transit country has become well established. In fact, it has become increasingly central for global commerce in contraband of all kinds.

The region's extensive air, sea and land infrastructure make it a prime conduit for moving illegal cargos. The number of airlines operating from Johannesburg International Airport has increased from 20 in April 1994 to more than 120 today, including those originating in drug source countries like Thailand, India and Brazil. Long, porous borders and weak border controls, including undermanned ports and numerous secondary airports, give drug traffickers and other smugglers nearly unlimited access .

The large banking and financial sector in South Africa and lack of adequate money laundering controls allow profits from illegal trade to mix easily with legitimate revenues. Police forces in the region are understaffed and undertrained. Current customs and immigration laws cannot adequately cope with the massive volume of international connections.

Regarding the domestic consumption of drugs, the question is not whether it will rise, but by how much. Transit countries tend to become user countries. It is happening quite quickly in South Africa, and, like so many other ills, it can be blamed in part on the shaky rand.

The economics are quite simple and predictable: Drug transit countries with fluctuating currencies quickly become drug consumption countries because traffickers (more specifically, the in-country controllers who monitor and oversee courier activity) would rather be paid their share of the profits with the product itself, which doesn't lose value, than with cash in an unpredictable local currency. Controllers with product to sell need domestic buyers, and they employ a wide variety of techniques to generate demand. These invariably result in rocketing dependency.

One DEA agent who asked not to be named observed this phenomenon first hand when he was stationed in Pakistan in the early 1980s: "Pakistan was a premier heroin producer and transit country for markets in Europe and the United States. When I got there, we estimated there were fewer than 100 heroin addicts. The traffickers had just begun taking their cuts in product and selling it locally. In just two years, the number of addicts was up to half a million. Today, the government of Pakistan says the number of addicts is 1.3 million, but I think even that estimate is low.

Speaking at a conference on crime in August, Sylvaine de Miranda, director of Johannesburg's Phoenix House, confirmed the emergence of this trend in South Africa: "Four years ago, heroin was almost unobtainable in South Africa. now free samples of heroin are often provided when you buy cocaine or crack."

The Nigerian Connection

Africa did not play a significant role in the international drug trade until fairly recently. Producing neither opium nor coca, it was not a source for heroin or cocaine. Although Africa has a long tradition of dagga [marijuana] cultivation, it was never a significant international supplier since virtually every other region of the world also produced marijuana.

Africa's real contribution to the international drug trade began in the early 1980s when a group of Nigerian naval officers undergoing training in India organised a trafficking ring to smuggle Southwest Asian heroin to Europe and, eventually, to the United States. Organised around a virtual army of couriers, this initial effort was boosted by the collapse of the Nigerian economy in the mid-80s, allowing smugglers to be recruited more cheaply and in greater numbers.

Today, Nigerians run some of the premier drug trafficking and organised crime networks in the world. They still rely heavily on individual couriers known as "swallowers," who transport drugs by wrapping them in condoms or the fingertips of surgical gloves and ingesting them. Upon safe arrival at the delivery site, they are given a laxative and a magazine. (Users should think about that the next time they consider snorting a line of coke.) This method precludes the seizure of large, costly shipments even if it means only small amounts can be smuggled at any one time. The networks continuously make significant operational adjustments to avoid detection and apprehension (for example, they changed the "profile" of their couriers from West African men to mostly young or middle-aged white women).

According to a recent DEA report, Nigerian groups are major traffickers in both heroin and cocaine in South Africa: "Since 1993, 60,000 Nigerian citizens have moved to the Johannesburg/Pretoria area, particularly Johannesburg's inner-city, high-rise suburb of Hillbrow. Many enter South Africa as tourists, illegally obtain South African identification books, and then apply for South African passports. Some have claimed South African citizenship through political asylum

"According to SANAB [South African Narcotics Bureau], many of these individuals have no visible means of support, yet are living very affluent lifestyles."

Law-abiding Nigerians are, of course, unhappy with the international reputation for drug trafficking and fraud that the nation's active criminal minority has attracted. Whether the stigmatisation is fair or not, the threat is real and growing. Jonathan Winer, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, told a Congressional committee in September that Nigerian enterprises were organised and active in at least 60 countries worldwide. "They are adaptable, polycrime organisations. They launder money in Hong Kong, buy cocaine in the Andes, run prostitution and gambling rings in Spain and Italy, and corrupt legitimate business in Great Britain.South African authorities have advised the US of their deep concern over Nigerian criminal penetration of the entire southern African region, including heroin and cocaine trafficking, frauds, car theft, alien smuggling and gang activities."

The situation is so bad that the US government is afraid to offer anti-fraud training to Nigerian police or central bankers for fear that the training will merely increase the sophistication of Nigerian crooks.

Thankfully, criminal organisations in South Africa have not penetrated government agencies to that extent, and foreign governments are eager to assist South African crime fighters. The DEA report quoted above has high praise for the South Africa Narcotics Bureau: "There is no evidence of drug-related corruption among senior drug law enforcement officials. SANAB has earned a reputation worldwide as a highly-dedicated and competent law enforcement agency. SANAB is aggressively cooperating with drug law enforcement officials from the United States and other countries "

But SANAB is just one entity with approximately 340 agents fighting an illicit industry worth billions. There can be no doubt that they are on the front lines of a bitter struggle when one considers that between 1994 and 1995, 31 SANAB officials were shot in the line of duty or died as a result of job-related stress. The question remains whether all the offers of international assistance and cooperation will be enough.

International Training and Collaboration

Peter Gastrow, a Special Adviser to the Minister of Safety and Security, describes different stages in which South African law enforcement needs have changed.

South Africa had first to form one service out of 11 different police organisations, and a new training and integration curriculum was necessary. It received assistance in that effort from a number of countries, including the UK, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. Ongoing planning and training requirements signal a different phase in which French, Belgian and British police forces have assisted with public order police training, community policing, and provincial law enforcement efforts.

In the current stage, says Gastrow, South Africa's focus is on improving overall effectiveness in a range of areas, and he views international cooperation as critical: "The Ministry wants to expand international contact and cooperation. Southern Africa has been our immediate focus, and this has resulted in some restructuring in our police services. We have reinforced our connection with Interpol, and that is yielding good results. And we are finalizing a number of international agreements to facilitate exchanges and information sharing. Cooperation can only improve if police agencies like the FBI and DEA have an ongoing presence here in South Africa."

The areas which he identified as benefitting from international expertise include: detection and investigative methods; narcotics trafficking; motor vehicle thefts and smuggling; white collar crime, including money laundering and fraud; official corruption; general management and administrative techniques; and cross border arms smuggling.

In some ways, the United States is a latecomer to the process. Anti-apartheid legislation remaining on the books in America prevented any police assistance to South Africa during the pre-election period that the European Union, Commonwealth and United Nations were sending police and security observer missions here.

It appears, however, that the US is making up for lost time. In addition to the planned opening of DEA and FBI offices here, there has been a great deal of US-sponsored activity: the US Customs Service has conducted several courses in border, air and seaport control for South African and neighbouring country police; the US Marshal's Service has provided technical assistance for South Africa's witness protection program; the Department of the Treasury has held several courses on methods to thwart money laundering; and the DEA has conducted several drug enforcement seminars and has helped SANAB establish a trafficker database.

South African participants in these and other nations' training programs are generally enthusiastic about them. A five year veteran of SANAB, Captain Kadwa has been to ten or so internationally sponsored conferences or training programs. "Any effort on the drug side, any strategy will always have to have an international effort. Any isolated effort will not work. We used to have just mandrax and cannabis to worry about. Now we are dealing with cocaine, heroin, and a big Nigeria connection. We have to learn their mentality, understand their tactics and their modus operandi.

"The US knows these guys already and can provide helpful information. They have also developed various laws like the one to fight money laundering . They've had that law for 26 years. They can show us how it evolved, and then we can adapt it in ways that make sense for South Africa."

Not all of these programs have filtered down to the street cops on the front lines. Police in the Soweto Dog Unit have not received much assistance from abroad since a DEA dog trainer worked with them two years ago.

With 50 people in the dog squad, they cover all of Soweto 24 hours a day. At any given time, they are a few handlers short that they have lost to border patrol or other special duties. The lack of manpower would make it very difficult for them to take advantage of training courses even if they were available, but they would like to have access to information about new techniques, drugs, and developments. All their information, they say, they get from the street.

The Globalisation of Law Enforcement

According to some observers of the situation in South Africa, training and good police work are not enough by themselves. The criminal justice system in its entirety must work reasonably well or effective law enforcement techniques will not matter.

The establishment of laws that authorise conspiracy investigations, promote criminal asset seizure and forfeiture and prohibit money laundering, for example, would allow police to employ the more sophisticated types of investigative techniques that have been used successfully against organised crime in some other countries. Some of this legislation, modelled on those laws but adapted to South Africa's needs, has already been proposed.

The judicial system must also have the procedural capacity to successfully prosecute, convict and imprison guilty criminals even when they have enormous legal talent at their disposal. Incompetent or corrupt judges must be identified and properly dealt with by a strong internal control system.

In addition, priorities based on sound information must be established. Veteran law enforcement officials from abroad refer to South Africa as a "target-rich environment," meaning that there are a lot of criminals, or targets, for law enforcement to go after. The problem with such an environment is that government can quickly squander its limited crime fighting resources and achieve only marginal results if they use them to pursue highly elusive or unimportant targets.

An example of this might be using the entire SANAB force, including its undercover agents, to arrest all the petty dealers in Yeoville and Hillbrow. Arrest statistics would rise temporarily, a few of the dealers would be successfully prosecuted, and all of the agents' covers would be blown.

The only way law enforcement can "work smart" in a target-rich environment is to have enough information to identify the size and nature of the threat, assess its consequences, and design an effective strategy to impose the most damage on the criminal organisation at the least relative cost.

Going after syndicate leaders and financiers is one method used successfully against the Cali drug cartel in Colombia. The arrest and successful prosecution of a number of Cali kingpins in 1995 was the result of years of front-end information gathering and analysis. North American, European and Asian law enforcement agencies worked closely with the Colombian police in that process. There is no reason that the same forces couldn't be marshalled against South Africa's emerging criminal kingpins.

If the world were a fair place, South Africa would be given a breather to sort out its own domestic political and economic issues after all it's been through in the last 50 years. It should not have to deal with gangs of highly mobile, well-funded, and destabilising crime syndicates putting down roots here. But the world is not fair, and the threat is real. At least, South Africa will not have to go it alone. Indeed, it appears that the world's best law enforcement entities have concluded that, against modern criminal organisations, no one can.


From: Message-Id: <> Date: Sun, 26 Jan 1997 11:29:19 -0500 Subject: Africa: International Crime

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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