‘Drug lords danced with joy, when US blacklisted me’ – Russian anti-drug chief

International drug cartels have benefited from US sanctions aimed at isolating Russia, anti-drug chief Viktor Ivanov told RT. He also dismissed allegations brought against him during the Litvinenko case hearings in London as “a farce.”

RT:One year ago, on March 20, 2014, President of the USA Barack Obama - quite surprisingly to anyone, and probably to you, too - issued an Executive Order that included you on the blacklist of the persons subject to the US sanctions against Russia. Why do you think he did that?

Viktor Ivanov: In fact, it really did come as a surprise not only for me, but also for my American counterparts, officials with the presidential administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration. They actually told me this decision had come straight from the top. I’d like to point out that putting the head of Russia’s drug control agency on a blacklist has done no good for either the US or Russia. The only ones to benefit from this were international drug traffickers, and I believe drug lords were dancing with joy at seeing the demise of such a robust counterdrug partnership.

RT:How did this isolation of Russia affect countering the international drugs trade?

VI: We can look back at what has happened over the past year. I can tell you drug production has continued to grow in Afghanistan. Last year’s annual output in raw opium has totaled a record 6,500 tons, while the cultivation of opium poppy has also come close to record levels, covering almost a quarter million hectares in total. And that’s just the Eastern Hemisphere. As for the Western Hemisphere, we have seen a continued increase in cocaine production in South America – by the way, in the past year we noted an increase in cocaine trafficking from South America to Europe, particularly to the United Kingdom and other EU member states. I’d like to stress that, according to the European Monitoring Center for Drugs, Afghan heroin alone claims more than 20,000 lives in the European Union [each year].

So it’s been an onslaught against public health and public safety, and by the way, it has also served to undermine the productivity of the euro zone. In recent months, we’ve seen the euro continuously depreciate against the dollar, and drugs have played a role in that. Particularly, the mass production of heroin in Afghanistan and of cocaine in South America, and their increasing flow to the euro zone.

RT:Which regions are among the most affected? What’s all the statistics say?

VI: I’ve already mentioned Afghanistan, which accounts for 95 percent of global heroin production. The US plays a key role in running a NATO-led military operation in Afghanistan. What they’ve amassed there is a significant fighting force and political asset. Our counterdrug cooperation with the US between 2005 and early 2014 enabled us to carry out joint operations, as in locate illegal drug laboratories (particularly, in northern Afghanistan, the mountainous Badakhshan Province), check GPS coordinates, exchange sensitive intelligence information and plan special operations engaging the Afghan Ministry of the Interior’s counterdrug forces. Over the years, our joint efforts resulted in busting ten large-scale drug labs and seizing more than ten tons of Afghan heroin, opium and hashish, already packaged for trafficking to the Russian Federation and the European Union, along with roughly seven tons of precursors for processing opium into heroin. In other words, it used to be a strong, efficient partnership that served to mitigate the threat to our countries coming from the Afghan drug cartels. And now, regrettably, it has been totally undone.

RT:Is it even possible to imagine an efficient global effort against illegal drug-trafficking without Russia's participation?

VI: I believe that would be impossible, and my fellow heads of police agencies in the US, Europe and Southeast Asia share this opinion. Last December, I visited China. We are similarly engaged in negotiations with Japan, which also profoundly relies on Russia in combating synthetic drug trafficking. Meanwhile, our joint operations with European counterparts have never ceased. We regularly carry out joint drug busts to intercept African hashish, which mainly comes from Morocco and travels to the Russian Federation through a number of European countries. In addition, Russia continues to play an important role in the international diplomatic effort through its active engagement in the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which is in charge of shaping an international counterdrug policy.

RT:What's the latest news on the Russian-American work group for countering the illegal drug trade and what are its further prospects?

VI: The US-Russian working group on combating drug trafficking has been entirely suspended. There has been no communication since the White House has instructed our counterparts not to maintain contacts with us. We do, however, continue to stay in touch with our colleagues in the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) as part of police cooperation; my deputy has been posted to Washington, while DEA officials have been posted to the US Embassy in Moscow. So there is still engagement, but its intensity is of a fraction of what it used to be.

RT:And I believe your American partners see that clearly as well, don't they?

VI: Not only do they realize it, but they find this decision regrettable.

RT:Then why was this decision made?

VI: I believe this decision was prompted by the fact that 2014 and 2015 are the crucial years in closing down Operation Enduring Freedom, the NATO-led military effort in Afghanistan. Now that this operation is over, Russia has started questioning whether it had fulfilled its mandate issued by the UN Security Council with a view to stabilizing Afghanistan. We haven’t seen a response. Violence and extremism are still rampant in Afghanistan. Moreover, we are seeing ISIS cells entrench themselves in various provinces of the country. As for drug production, we have all witnessed the phenomenal drug boom in Afghanistan. Since the start of the US-led operation, heroin production in that country has increased more than forty-fold. That is unprecedented, and it deserves a public debate. Why did the Western military intervention coincide with such a remarkable increase in drug production?

On a side note, the G8 had put Great Britain in charge of the counterdrug efforts in Afghanistan as part of the NATO operation. Ironically, the UK has engaged in staging a trial regarding Aleksandr Litvinenko’s death, which has unleashed a storm of lies and slander against Russia, alleging a link between the Colombian drug cartels and a number of Russian officials, including myself.

RT:Right. Can we talk about that now? London's High Court claimed you had ties with a Tambov-based criminal group involved in drug-trafficking and money laundering for a Colombian drug cartel, during the hearing of Aleksandr Litvinenko's case. Those were some really high-profile allegations. Could you comment on those?

VI: Over the first three months of 2015 we saw a massive number of allegations and fabricated accusations that London's High Court was feeding to the UK media, which went on to circulate in newspapers and on TV, and after that, these allegations were picked up by the global mass media. It should be noted that the High Court based these claims on the testimony of a certain Dean Attew, a witness to the case – although the materials of the case clearly indicate that in fact Mr. Attew neither witnessed nor could have witnessed himself the events that took place in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, the Court is referring to, and that Mr. Attew's testimony is based on the account he claimed he heard from the late Mr. Litvinenko, who in turn – as the case materials also confirm – neither witnessed nor could have witnessed the events in St. Petersburg in question.

The case materials indicate that the late Mr. Litvinenko went on to request that information from Mr. Andrey Lugovoy, who also – as the case materials also confirm – neither witnessed nor could have witnessed the events in question, which prompted the late Mr. Litvinenko to request that information from Mr. Yury Shvets who, again, neither witnessed nor could have witnessed himself the events in question, because he has been permanently residing in the US since the 1980s, and the source of the information that Mr. Shvets allegedly passed on to Mr. Litvinenko is, in fact, unknown. And yet, London's High Court sees it fit to use this information.

Thus, this information that came from an unknown source, in other words, basically, an allegation was used by the High Court, and the High Court itself was cynically used by some forces as a mouthpiece for circulating falsehoods.

RT:Why do you think you drew such attention from the American administration and now Britain?

It is clear that I cannot be the main target of this attack. These stones were thrown at the president of the Russian Federation, and this points us towards those who pulled the strings, certain Western political elites and their intelligence services. This is the level where there is no room for playing by the rules or delivering justice. There is only one thing that is true in all of this – that's the fact that I was heading the Department for the Prevention of Unlawful Trading in St. Petersburg in 1993.

Under my guidance, this department prevented the smuggling of one ton of Colombian cocaine into Russia in a batch of Colombian meat preserves. In cooperation with the Israeli police, my department identified ten criminals involved in the scheme and brought them to justice. They all got long prison sentences. The same goes for the Tambov-based gang, which was mentioned. Its leader Vladimir Barsukov is serving life, by the way. Thus, as we can clearly see, it was nothing more but an attempt to put us in the wrong and shift the blame. It is a known fact that the British mission to Afghanistan was a complete failure. It was actually worse than that, it led to a dramatic increase in the illegal drug production there, and that's a very uncomfortable truth to admit. Diverting the international attention to some other scandalous events of a shady background certainly does the trick of relieving the responsible parties from this necessity.

RT:And why does it have to be now?

VI: It has to be now because that mission ended recently. Now there is a new mission in Afghanistan, and Russia – the Russian Foreign Ministry – requested for a mission report to see what's been done in Afghanistan. We see clearly that an increase in the drug production volumes has become a contributing factor to the destabilization of the situation in all the drug trafficking transit countries. We also see that the drug money became a powerful funding source for ISIS extremists. ISIS is 100 percent involved in trafficking the illegal drugs through the territory of a destabilized Iraq into Africa and on into the EU countries. This is an established fact; it is captured in the UN documents. Besides, ISIS expanded its presence in Afghanistan. At the same time, the UK and US-led military mission to Afghanistan destabilized the situation in the country.

Foreign military presence drove large numbers of Afghans to desert their military and police service on a regular basis. According to the statistics, at least 30 per cent of the Afghan military and police officers desert their service annually. Given that the total number of the law enforcement force in Afghanistan exceeds 300,000 people, we are talking about 100,000 armed drop-outs in uniforms, who join the illegal drug trafficking pipeline, serving either in production or protecting the crops, or delivering the drugs to other countries. Some join ISIS and other groups in other regions, creating instability throughout the world. Thus, these Western states we're talking about basically did a tragically deplorable thing by destabilizing the entire region and this needs to be brought to the attention of the international community. They need to report on what they've done but they have done nothing about this. That's exactly why they are trying to feed all sorts of hoaxes to the public, through London's High Court in particular.

RT:Let’s talk about my colleagues now. As you’ve said, various international media circulated this information from the London Court. Have many of them asked you personally for comments – you or your service?

VI: No, nobody addressed us. BBC Russian was the only one that did, but frankly speaking, when I heard those blatant lies I wanted to look at them first, and to see where they were coming from. By the way, there were a lot of quite interesting aspects – for instance, Mr. Scaramella was mentioned. Pino Arlacchi, who had been the UN Deputy Secretary General until 2012, visited me not long ago. When I told him about Scaramella, he replied, “I know that man.” While Arlacchi was still in his office Scaramella accused him of giving UN money to the Taliban, who had been responsible for the 9/11 terror attack. I couldn’t even imagine anything more absurd than that.

There were many other curious facts regarding the London Court. For instance, Dean Attew testified that the information received by Litvinenko was of a destructive nature, and that it disrupted a certain deal between a large British company and Russia. Various media reported about it, because Russia was ostensibly promised a reward for this deal in the amount of $10-15 million. Also, a particular official sitting here in front of you was mentioned in this regard. Considering that this information was voiced in the London Court while administering justice, and that Attew had received this information nine years ago, in 2006, two questions arise.

Question one: why didn’t this British company, whose name wasn’t revealed, bear responsibility in accordance with British law? The United Kingdom is a member of the Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials. According to British law, it’s a grave offense. So this company was supposed to be made liable for plotting to give a bribe to a foreign public official in the aforementioned amount of $10-15 million.

Secondly, why did Dean Attew conceal this information from relevant authorities, which evidently weren’t involved in the investigation of this crime committed on the territory of the UK? This is also a penal act, and it’s really strange that the British court did not spot the signs of such grave offenses against the UK.

RT:Are you expecting more of these kinds of surprises in the near future?

VI: You see, this scenario of using the court as a tool for casting aspersions was built on the following factors. After Litvinenko’s death, the court hearings were proceeding behind closed doors. Then, allegedly upon request by Litvinenko’s widow, the public hearings began in January 2015, where explicitly fake, malicious information was spread. It’s been announced that the deliberation will be over by the end of March, and then the hearings will return behind closed doors. So we will never know what decisions they make, what facts they bring up, or how they assess evidence. Apparently, these three months were used to mislead the entire international community, as well as to throw dirt on a number of Russian officials. It’s as simple as that. It was a spectacle, a farce, a knockabout act, as they say in English.

RT:Have any of your colleagues or partners fallen for these aspersions? Has it made any impact on your contacts?

VI: Nobody even takes this information seriously.