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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia, U.S. Plan Joint War on Drugs

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration is seeking to open a Moscow office to strengthen the bilateral struggle against drug trafficking, officials said Friday.

"It's in the process of being worked out," said Vladimir Ibragimov, chief detective for foreign operations in the drug control department of the Russian police.

He said the director of the DEA's East European office in Vienna, one of the agency's 55 offices worldwide, had contacted Russian police earlier in the week with the request.

Such an office would enable Russian and American police to evaluate international cases more quickly and share vital information on topics such as money laundering, said Charles Sullivan, a DEA special agent who led a five-day seminar on drug trafficking this week.

Cooperation is vital to clamp down on the growing Russian role in the international drug trade.

As large numbers of Russians move more freely to the U.S., "it's like a tugboat going to harbor: They bring garbage with them," said Sullivan. "You always have that minority trash that goes with them."

At present Russian police are cooperating on nine cases involving Russians in the Miami Beach area alone, Ibragimov said. They are also working on investigations against Russian citizens or immigrants in the New York area and Washington D.C., he added.

In another sign of increased cooperation between law-enforcement agencies, the FBI plans to open an office in Moscow next month.

Drug trafficking has also been on the rise inside Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union, police officials say. In 1993, police recorded 53,000 drug crimes nationwide, up from 29,000 a year before. This year, Moscow police have complained that drugs such as LSD, crack and angel dust have started to appear in the local market from Europe and Latin America.

Russian police are especially interested in the American experience of asset forfeiture, which enables authorities to confiscate assets acquired through drug profits. Such seizures take place only after a court has approved the transfer.

"We can hurt criminals and criminal organizations more by taking their assets," said Sullivan, repeating a major theme of the week-long conference.

The U.S. police focus on seizing drug assets is virtually uncharted territory for Russian police.

"We have a law which allows us to seize assets but we don't have a money-laundering law, so we can't seize the money in the bank accounts if it is related to drug trafficking," said Ibragimov. "We should adjust our laws to the civilized world and the realities we have now."

Asset seizures are also profitable, which is music to the ears of the cash-strapped Russian police. Last year, the DEA seized about $1 billion in assets.

In international operations, the DEA has begun to share the proceeds of asset seizures with foreign governments with whom they cooperate.

"We drive very nice automobiles in the DEA: thank you, drug traffickers," Sullivan said.

"I wish we had this law," said Ibragimov.