Cablegate: Draft Bangladesh Part I for 2007-2008 International

Published: Mon 3 Nov 2008 03:04 AM
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1. (U) The following is the draft text on Bangladesh of the first
part (drugs and chemical control) for the 2008-2009 International
Narcotics Control Strategy Report:
2. (U) I. Summary: There was no evidence that Bangladesh was a
significant cultivator or producer of narcotics. Government of
Bangladesh (GOB) officials charged with controlling and preventing
illegal substance trafficking lacked training, equipment, continuity
of leadership, and other resources to detect and interdict the flow
of drugs. Corruption at all levels of government traditionally has
hampered the country's drug interdiction efforts. Law-enforcement
officials initially said an anti-graft campaign launched by the
Caretaker Government had made efforts to prosecute politically
connected drug dealers easier. The anti-graft push, however, slowed
toward the end of 2008 as courts released scores of corruption
suspects on bail and stayed many cases. Bangladesh is a party to the
1988 UN Drug Convention.
3. (U) II. Status of Country: The country's porous borders made the
illegal flow of narcotics from neighboring countries easy and made
Bangladesh an attractive transfer point for drugs transiting the
region. Assessments conducted by several U.S. agencies in 2008 found
numerous land, sea and air border security vulnerabilities in
Bangladesh that could be easily exploited by narcotics traffickers.
The Bangladesh Department of Narcotics Control said it did not have
an estimate for the number of drug addicts in the country. The
number of drug users had been estimated unofficially at between
100,000 and 1.7 million, with 20,000-25,000 injecting drug users and
45,000 heroin smokers, indicating by the wide range of the estimate
the lack of any real knowledge of the extent of drug abuse. Other
drugs used in Bangladesh were methamphetamines, marijuana, and the
codeine-based cough syrup phensidyl. After years of unwillingness to
recognize narcotics issues, the country's law enforcement bodies
took a stance against drugs in 2006, largely due to two factors:
high-profile cases of heroin smuggling to the United Kingdom in 2005
and growing methamphetamine (locally, Thai "yaba" tablets which
consist of caffeine and methamphetamine ) use among the young elite.
4. (U) III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 2006: Policy
Initiatives. Efforts to create a coordinated government response to
counter narcotics abuse appeared to founder in 2008. Although
government officials said in 2007 a new interagency monitoring group
had been created, the Home Affairs Ministry said in October 2008 no
such agency existed.
5. (U) Law Enforcement Efforts. Law enforcement units engaged in
operations to counter narcotics included the police, the DNC, the
border defense forces known as the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), customs,
the navy, the coast guard, local magistrates and the Rapid Action
Battalion (RAB), an elite group that played a leading role in
fighting terrorism, corruption and narcotics abuse. Customs, the
navy, the coast guard and the DNC all suffered from poor funding,
inadequate equipment, understaffing and lack of training. For
example, the DNC budget for 2008-2009 was a paltry 184 million taka
(about $2.6 million), only slightly more than the actual expenditure
for the previous fiscal year. Its work force of about 900 people
also was 375 positions short of the number of positions approved by
the government. There was no DNC presence at the international
airports in Chittagong and Sylhet and only two at Dhaka airport, and
DNC officers throughout the country were not authorized to carry
weapons. Although RAB had become perhaps the highest-profile
anti-narcotics force in the country, it did not have a special
counter-narcotics section. Its drug-fighting resources, which
appeared stronger than other law-enforcement agencies, included a
recently expanded canine corps of 51 dogs.
6. (U) Law Enforcement Efforts continued: The DNC kept tabs
primarily on seizures by its own officers. Drugs seized by the
department from January through September 2008 (latest statistics)
are as follows: 23.8 kg of heroin (compared to 16.3 kg in all of
2006 and 20.9 kg in 2007); 1,824 kg of marijuana (compared to 1,345
kg in 2006 and 1,768 kg in 2007); more than 41,000 bottles of
phensidyl, a codeine-based, highly addictive cough syrup produced in
India; 226 ampoules of pethedine, an injectable opiate with medical
application as an anesthetic; and 4,858 tablets of yaba. Meanwhile,
RAB reported its seizures of phensidyl were way up in 2008, while
seizures of yaba were way down. RAB said in the first 10 months of
2008 it seized 299,746 bottles of phensidyl (up from more than
80,000 for the same period in 2007); 15,104 tablets of yaba (down
from nearly 133,000 tablets a year earlier, almost all of which came
in one Dhaka raid); and 32 kilograms of heroin (19.8 kilograms a
year earlier).
7. (U) Corruption. The Caretaker Government that came to power in
January 2007 made fighting the country's endemic corruption a top
priority. As of September 2008, 97 people were convicted out of 512
graft cases. Between July 14 and September 8, judges granted bail to
158 suspects and stayed 88 cases. Many feared the fight against
graft was losing steam as the Caretaker Government prepared for the
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end of its tenure in late 2008. The GOB did not, as a matter of
government policy, encourage or facilitate illicit production or
distribution of drugs or controlled substances or launder proceeds
from their transactions. No senior official had been identified as
engaging in, encouraging, or facilitating the production or
distribution of drugs or controlled substances.
8. (U) Agreements and Treaties. Bangladesh is a party to the 1988 UN
Drug Convention, the 1961 UN Single Convention as amended by the
1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic
Substances. Bangladesh acceded to the UN Convention against
Corruption in February 2007. The GOB and USG signed a Letter of
Agreement on Law Enforcement and Narcotics Control (LOA) in
September 2002 under which the U.S. provides equipment and technical
assistance to the DNC and its central chemical laboratory. The LOA
also provided for training, via the U.S. Department of Justice, to
law enforcement personnel involved in counter-narcotics activities.
9. (U) Cultivation/Production. The International Narcotics Control
Board estimated small quantities of cannibas are cultivated in
Bangladesh for local use. The DNC acknowledged that some small
amount of cannabis is cultivated in the hill tracts near Chittagong,
in the southern silt islands, and in the northeastern region,
claiming it is for local consumption. The DNC also reported that as
soon as knowledge of a cannabis crop reached its officers, that crop
was destroyed in concert with law enforcement agencies. The DNC said
there were no significant crop destruction activities in the first
10 months of 2008.
10. (U) Drug Flow/Transit. There were few media reports of major
narcotics seizures in the first 10 months of 2008. Local media
reported a huge seizure of heroin and other narcotics at Zia
International Airport in Dhaka in April, but Government officials
later confirmed that testing found the seized materials were not
illegal substances. Subsequent news articles identified the seized
goods as legal food supplements.
11. (U) Drug Flow/Transit continued: The International Narcotics
Control Board in its 2007 report cited evidence that "heroin
consignments destined for Europe are increasingly passing through
Bangladesh." It said heroin was smuggled into Bangladesh by courier
from Pakistan, by commercial vehicle or trains from India, by truck
or public transport from Burma and by sea via the Bay of Bengal. The
Chittagong seaport appeared to be the main exit point for narcotics
leaving Bangladesh, the report added. Bangladesh Navy officials said
they suspected Bangladesh was a transit zone for heroin smuggled out
of the Golden Crescent in South Asia and the Golden Triangle in
Southeast Asia.
12. (U) Drug Flow/Transit continued: Several recent U.S. government
assessments found great vulnerabilities along Bangladesh's land, sea
and air borders. One report from the Department of Homeland Security
described a chaotic situation at Benapole, the main land border
crossing between India and Bangladesh, which could easily be
exploited by narcotics traffickers. The report said the main concern
of customs officers at Zia International Airport in Dhaka appeared
to be a desire not to inconvenience passengers. Examination of
luggage items was said to be cursory at best. Opium-based
pharmaceuticals and other medicinal drugs are being smuggled into
Bangladesh from India. White (injectable) heroin comes in from
13. (U) Domestic Programs (Demand Reduction). Law enforcement
officials believed that drug abuse, while previously a problem among
the ultra-poor, was becoming a major problem among the wealthy and
well-educated young. The Department of Narcotics Control ran
treatment centers in Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Jessore
and Comilla. In the nine months through September 2008, 3,120
patents received treatment at the government facilities, the vast
majority of them being male. That appeared to confirm a trend of
dwindling numbers of patients, which totaled nearly 5,000 for all of
2007, about 6,000 in 2006 and more than 9,000 in 2005. A drug
addicts' rehabilitation organization, APON, operates five long-term
residential rehabilitation centers, including the first center in
Bangladesh for the rehabilitation of female addicts (opened in
2005). APON says it is the only organization that includes street
children in its drug rehabilitation program.
14. (U) Domestic Programs (Demand Reduction) continued: The
International Narcotics Control Board in its 2007 report said
prescription controls in Bangladesh were not adequately enforced at
the retail level. It said pharmaceutical preparations were stolen
from both hospitals and pharmacies.
15. (U) IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs: Bilateral
Cooperation. The USG continued to support Bangladesh's
counter-narcotics efforts. The U.S. Government provided 2,100 drug
identification kits to several enforcement agencies, including the
Department of Narcotics Control, the Bangladesh Criminal
Investigation Department of Police and the Rapid Action Battalion.
The kits allowed law enforcement personnel in the field to quickly
test substances for methamphetamine, ecstasy, marijuana and opiates.
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The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka also provided a grant of $52,000 to APON
for a new rehabilitation center for female drug addicts.
16. (U) The Road Ahead. The USG will continue to provide law
enforcement and forensic training for GOB officials, much of which
will be useful to Bangladesh's counter-narcotics efforts. New
Delhi-based Drug Enforcement Agency officials visited Dhaka in
August 2008 to liaise with Bangladeshi law enforcement agencies
about future counter-narcotics cooperation.
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