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The harder the financial situation, the more people are willing to risk ending up in jail to improve it. A prospect of earning about five thousand or more dollars in one day – that is the payment for delivering a package of cocaine on a plane – outweigh the fear of going behind bars for five or more years.

“I was a hard time of my life, I had no money. There were no jobs and this opportunity appeared.” , – remembers Gediminas Kleiza, who spent three and a half years behind bars in Panama, and was recently resettled in Lukiškės prison. In summer in 2009, then just turned twenty years old Gediminas was caught in Panama airport with two kilos of cocaine. He was promised 6 thousand US dollars for taking the drugs to Amsterdam. He got six years in jail.

There are tens of similar cases. During economical crisis, in years 2009-2010 twice as many Lithuanian citizens were arrested abroad for carrying drugs and other drug related crimes than in 2006-2007. This number decreased last year, but still is higher than it was five years ago.

There were 107 cases of illegal drug handling involving Lithuanian citizens in year 2012. 74 of them – smuggling of drugs, 16 among them were attempts to deliver drugs by plane. Almost all of the attempts to deliver drugs by plane are cocaine smuggling cases to Europe from South America.

The fact that the economic difficulties of the country have increased the number of drug couriers is confirmed not only by statistics in Latvia and Estonia, but also in Spain. Last year, of the drug couriers arrested in the airport of Peru capital Lima, the most were Spanish – their numbers exceeded those of the local population. Unemployment in Spain last year exceeded 26 percent in some months and was either the largest or second-largest in the EU (after Greece).

In Peru, which is the main exporter of cocaine to Europe, five Lithuanians were arrested last year. If IQ was a tabloid using cheap tricks to gain attention, the article would be entitled “Even Kubilius is involved in the drug smuggling in Peru”, because one of the detainees is the namesake of former Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius.

Nothing Joyful

Drug couriers in police reports are just dry statistics showing crime increase or decrease. But behind each number lies a personal tragedy, broken hopes, hurt families, years removed from life, or even deaths.

“Not only he died, I also died with him” – sadly tells 78 year old Liudmila from Vilnius. Her son Aleksandras died in Lima in the end of 2011, when a packet of drugs ruptured in his stomach. The mother thought that her son, as previously, is gone to England to work. When Aleksandras called her in the beginning of December, he told her that everything was fine. It seemed for Liudmila that her son was in quite a good mood. It is possible that Aleksandras already had an offer to deliver drugs and thought about the future earnings. He went for this long journey without knowing any English – he had not learned the language even though he used to go to England looking for work.  This was the reason Aleksandras did not dare to look for a job by himself – he always used the services of agencies promising to find him a job.

After three weeks form the call to his mother, the man died, when he tried to carry the swallowed capsules with drugs. Liudmila found out about the death of her son after nine more days. She then asked to keep his body until she collected 2 thousand dollars needed to bring back the remains. The pensioner was unable to find enough money, so the remains were cremated in Peru and the ashes brought back to Lithuania. The required papers where lost on the way, and when the urn arrived, Liudmila still could not officially bury her son for a while.

The woman is also being harassed by the fact that when she called his cell phone after her son’s death, someone answered. Shortly after, the phone was switched off.

To carry drugs in the stomach is the most dangerous way. And thus of the detainees the number of such carriers is the least. Most of the cocaine is found in briefcases, handbags, backpacks, computer bags. The statistics of arrests is influenced by drug-transportation organizers – they pre-determine which carriers are denounced to officials.

This also happened to G. Kleiza, who carried cocaine in a computer bag. He is certain that he was set up: “I just entered the airport, went out of the toilet, and the officials came. They already knew where to search.”

Yet another Lithuanian is caught similarly. He was escorted with the suitcase by the organizers to the check-in counter in the airport. On the moment he put down the suitcase, the police immediately presented themselves.

The organizers of smuggling denounce some of the couriers to the police to draw attention form others. How many of those others can only be guessed. The officials fighting with smuggling use quite an approximate number: only the tenth of illegal goods are withhold. Lithuanians, prisoned for cocaine smuggling say that four out of five curriers manage to sneak through the officials.


Free Vacation

No matter what the real numbers are, it is obvious that there are enough willing to risk it. It is especially so when the organizers present the offer “properly”: they tell about the future earnings, introduce the couriers, who successfully came back (or at least they tell so) from the voyage.

Monsignor Edmundas Putrimas, pastoral of Lithuanian prisoners in the South American countries, remembers a story he heard from a prisoner. When that man was in Spain, one day, another Lithuanian invited to a party, there he acquainted with those who “came back” from South America. They said nothing about the bags, which had to be transported. Spoke only about a free vacation.


Such vacation can really be for free. And very long. “I was ten days in Panama before the flight. It was like a vacation. And I am still on it”, – G. Kleiza joked when talking on Skype from prison in Panama. He met drug smugglers at a party: “I refused at first, but then I changed my mind.”

Pocket money is given for the vacation – 500 or 1000 dollars. And coming back from vacation, only a suitcase is needed to be carried. When the organizers have already paid for the flight, the hotel and given money, which could be already spent before receiving the suitcase, it is much harder to refuse to carry drugs. And those, who start to ruffle, are pressed with threats.

A cruise trip was bought for one Lithuanian. A suitcase with drugs was given later. When the man refused to take it, he was threatened that his family will be killed. He now serves time in prison for carrying drugs.

Another Lithuanian, now prisoned in South America, bought a house in Lithuania with a mortgage, but lost his job when the financial crisis began. He thought he found a way to quickly “solve” his financial problems.

Lithuanians are usually the executors of drug smuggling or recruited couriers. Such people are usually called drug mules. Mule is a strong and tough animal, perfectly suitable for carrying heavy loads.

“The main drug mules are 20-25 years old or 50-60. The first group take the risk because of youthful adventurism or the wish to earn money quickly, the second – because of desperation. Usually lonely people are lured or those who want to gain a quick fortune”, – this is the impression of E. Putrimas from his visits in South America prisons.


Where Nobody Wants To End Up

The drug curries that got arrested can be divided in to two groups: arrested in Europe and arrested in South America, Africa or Asia. The first are prisoned in relatively good conditions, and are not willing to come back to Lithuania too much. The later would be glad to be back to serve prison time in their country.

Last year most of the Lithuanians caught for drug related crimes – 23 – where arrested in Norway. 10 more were caught in Sweden. Both of those countries have much better conditions in prisons than Lithuania. And then there is the complete opposite – the prisons of South America. Moreover, transfer of prisoners from South America countries to Lithuania can take an unpredictable period of time.

For example, San Paul (Brazil) has a prison exclusively for foreigners. There are more than 10 Lithuanians in there. “The guards thought they were Russians at first. They were considered to be Russians in the court too. When the interpreter to Russian language was assigned to them in court, younger ones did not understand the court proceedings. One of them had no idea who was his attorney at all.”, – told E. Putrimas.

Lithuanians, locked up in jail, as the others as well, have no means to contact their family members at first. It happens so that they make a phone call only after a couple of months. The relatives are usually shocked: they are sure that the person is travelling Europe or works in England.

E. Putrimas tries to fill the void that appears in the life of prisoners. Lithuanians usually are willing to stay in touch with the priest.

Due to long distance or lack finances the relatives can visit the prisoner rarely or cannot do it at all. All that remains is to support the prisoner with money. This support is necessary. In prison, nothing is for free – nor bed linen, nor mattress, nor sanitary articles. Those, who get no money from people outside and are unable to earn in prison live in much worse conditions.
Those who wish to keep in touch with the outside can buy a mobile phone. Their prices in Panamian prison are 100-200 dollars higher than on the outside. The mobile phones in prison are a semi-legal, and 3G connections are sufficient for a Skype call – if a network is not overloaded. Inmates use phones without hiding them too much, especially since there are not many to hide from.


“What guard? There is only one guard in the whole building. There are no guards at all at night”, – G. Kleiza answered my question about the risk of using the phone in jail. The almost unrestricted possibility use the phone in jail is what initially most surprised me, a journalist from Lithuania. It appears that a contact with a prisoner from another side of the planet is much easier than with the one in in the Lukiškės prison, which is several dozen steps from the editorial office.

True, sometimes however phones are confiscated during the inspections. As are knives, guns, drugs and other illegal items. In prison, in which the vast majority are serving for cocaine carrying, it is easy to get cocaine. The price for a gram is less than for a liter of home brew produced locally in prison. Trade takes place for the food as well, because prison food, according to G. Kleiza, is suitable “only in trouble.”


Profit Margin Of 5000 Percent

The determination of fighters with illegal drugs seems to end after sending a prisoner behind bars. The officials should try to find out who are the organizers of the crime in order to catch a bigger fish when the currier is arrested, but it usually not rushed.

“Nobody was interested in anything during the interrogation. Nobody knew English, I did not know any Spanish” – G. Kleiza remembers his arrest.  His story interested nobody for a year and a half. Only after this time the guard came to the cell and told to get ready for questioning.

This careless attitude can be due to the money involved in illegal drug business. Or, more likely with the corruption that is fuelled by that money.

A kilo of cocaine in “a place of production” in Peru costs 900-1000 US dollars. It is estimated that a wholesale price of cocaine in Columbia in 2010 was 2400 dollars. That price rose up to 33,3 thousand dollars when appearing in U.S.A. market. And after selling it in retail market the dealers scoop up to 120 thousand dollars per kilo.

These price differences can be viewed twofold. The more expensive cocaine is (and the price goes up due to more restrictive control) the less people can afford it. On the other hand, the higher the profit margin, the higher the risk of corruption: drug gangs, which earn more, have more money to bribe the officials. And they release the grip of the control, leaving only show-off arrests and not digging deeper.

Also, a higher profit margin allows the drug gangs to lure more naïve curries. 5 thousand dollar reward for delivering drugs and a plane ticket price is a small part of earnings when the drugs are sold. And the currier considers it an easy job for such a payment.

The problem is, that dreams about the reward help to forget not only the risk, but the damage drugs do as well. “Most of the time people do not know what awaits them when they get the offer”, – warns G. Kleiza, who got a rough lesson. He hopes that his example will open the eyes for naïve hopers of fast fortune and ventures.

Emerging Markets For Cocaine

In recent years, due to the effort to eradicate coca crops and to catch drug manufacturers the supply of cocaine in the world was managed to be reduced. Most decrease was of cocaine produced in Colombia. This first had to be experienced in the United States, where Colombia is “monopoly” of cocaine supply.

The usage of cocaine in U.S. decreased as well.  According to UN survey in 2006 3 percent of grownups have bought cocaine, and in 2010 – 2,6 percent.

The usage of cocaine remains stable in Europe and the decrease of supply from Columbia is not felt. For resulting gap was filled by higher supply from Bolivia and Peru.

The demand of cocaine rises in East and Southeast Europe. In 2009-2010 the number of seizures here was three times higher than in 2005-2006. In addition to the increased demand, arrests could have increased due to changes in transportation schemes. It is believed that due to the latter reason, the number of arrests was reduced by half  over this period in the Central and Western Europe, because the usage in this region has not abated that much.

It is likely that with the improvement in the standard of living in Eastern Europe, cocaine demand will increase. In 2010 cocaine was consumed by 0.2 percent of 15-64 year old population in East and South-East Europe, in Central and Western Europe – 1.3 percent.

As with the legal international trade the euro and the U.S. dollar exchange rate influences the outcomes of drug business. The stronger the euro, the more it pays to transport cocaine from South America to Europe, because the vendors sell it for U.S. dollars.

UN estimates that 16 million people in the world have purchased cocaine in 2010. In 2009, the global cocaine retail market was worth 85 billion U.S. dollars. Most cocaine was sold in North America (for 37 billion dollars) and Europe (for 33 billion dollars).
Lithuanians take place of cogs in the big mechanism – according to the police, Lithuanian citizens involved in the criminal activity are executors of smuggling, or hired couriers. Major drug destinations are Scandinavia, Russia, United Kingdom, and most of them are transported by cars and airplanes. Most arrests were related to cocaine and cannabis trafficking.


Stairs Of Crisis

Lithuanian citizens suspected of illegal drug related crimes abroad.

Source: Police Department under the Ministry of the Interior

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