24 May 2001


VIENNA, 24 May (UN Information Service) -- The Universal Postal Union (UPU) and the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) have embarked on a joint project aimed at combating drug trafficking through the use of the postal service. Supported by two other international organizations, the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) and the World Customs Organization (WCO), the project will focus on the illegal dispatch of drugs and drug-related money laundering operations through the international mail network, particularly in Africa. The project, for which US$ 300 000 has been earmarked, will assist 18 countries in East, West, and North Africa to strengthen their postal control, inspection systems and cooperation with law enforcement bodies. It will stretch over two years during which postal, police and customs officers and managers will undergo specialized training programs developed jointly by UPU, UNDCP, INTERPOL and WCO experts.

The Executive Director of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention in Vienna, Austria, Pino Arlacchi, said organized criminal groups were increasingly using Africa as a clearing house for drugs in transit to all parts of the world and that the postal system is especially vulnerable as it offers anonymity and easy access. Arlacchi said the project will give national postal services training and access to expertise that will enable them to combat these crimes.

The UPU, through its Postal Security Action Group (PSAG), INTERPOL and the WCO have already worked together to increase awareness of this problem among postal administrations and law enforcement agencies, and several of their individual projects already target African countries. UPU Director General, Thomas E. Leavey, said in Berne, Switzerland that it had now become necessary to combine and optimize initiatives already undertaken by individual agencies and organizations into a harmonized inter-agency assistance program. Leavey said the UPU and UNDCP, supported by INTERPOL and WCO, are in a position to deliver a substantive law enforcement assistance package against illicit drug trafficking and money laundering activities through international mail systems.

Illicit drug trends in Africa

The UNDCP says West African countries face severe problems with illicit trans-shipments of heroin from Asia and with cocaine from Latin America, while there has been an increase in heroin seizures in East African countries coming from Asia. The organization says there is also evidence of cooperation between North African drug traffickers and South American cocaine gangs who are using the mail network as a major vehicle for transiting drugs.

Despite relatively low illicit drug seizures being reported from Africa, there is substantial evidence that large amounts of drug seizures in other regions of the world were transited or re-distributed in African countries. Illicit drug trafficking to and through Africa is conducted via sea-freight containers, air-freight and couriers who swallow or hide drugs in their luggage. The amount of drugs found in the mail is large as demonstrated by the 67 kilograms of heroin that were concealed in photo albums mailed recently to Nigeria. In one of the largest seizures for the continent 6 tons of cocaine were picked-up off the coast of Morocco.

There is also ample proof that money laundering is the direct consequence of drug trafficking operations and that it is being facilitated through international mail and courier systems. Mail services are not only used to send parcels containing cash, but postal money orders are also extensively used for money laundering operations.

Project countries

International mail centers in most African countries are affected by the problem of drugs in the mail. The UPU/UNDCP-project will begin in a number of countries that are already engaged in complementary law enforcement programs with the UNDCP. Six countries each in Arabic, English and French speaking Africa have been identified for the project. They are the Arabic speaking countries Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia; the English speaking countries Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda; and the French speaking countries Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

Inter-agency cooperation

The project aims at establishing inter-agency agreements between government agencies such as the post, customs and police, as well as inter-sectoral agreements between public and private agencies. It is further aimed at educating and upgrading the skills of government and private sector agencies involved in international mail delivery. It will also seek to strengthen the efforts of law enforcement agencies responsible for combating illicit drug trafficking and money laundering. Aspects to be covered through the training programs include awareness, risk assessment, profiling, interception and the development of effective response mechanisms.

The UPU will serve as the executing agency for the project and will be entrusted with the management and implementation of all project activities. The UNDCP as the cooperating agency will support the UPU in the preparation of training material, the conduct of training courses and the drafting of Memoranda of Understanding for inter-agency cooperation in African countries. Although Posts, courier services, customs and police will benefit immediately from the project, the total population in the project countries will eventually benefit from an improved and more secure postal system.


Sandro Tucci (UNDCP)
Telephone : (+ 43 1) 260605629
Telefax: (+ 43 1) 260605866

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Juliana Nel (UPU)
Telephone (+41 31) 350 32 40
Telefax (+41 31) 350 31 10