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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Drug Enforcers Sharply Criticized

The Federal Drug Control Service is opaque and prone to corruption, while its rank-and-file staff lack any clear-cut mission and often commit abuses, according to a scathing independent study of the two-year-old agency released Tuesday.

The report, written under the auspices of the Moscow Helsinki Group, a human rights organization, and Indem, an anti-corruption think tank, is the latest blow to the Federal Drug Control Service, which President Vladimir Putin created to tackle the country's drug problem. The agency has been repeatedly accused of ignoring the real problems behind drug abuse and instead chasing veterinarians and dacha poppy-growers to pad its arrest statistics.

That lack of focus on its core mission is a big problem, said Lev Levinson, a co-author of the report and the head of the New Drug Policy, an advocacy group for drug law reform.

"One of the main conclusions we arrived at is that the Federal Drug Control Service's focus is not on undermining the financial foundation of the illegal market, as the president instructed it to be, or on preventing drug use from spreading, rehabilitating drug users or coordinating all of these efforts," he said. "It is focusing on cracking down on so-called drug crimes."

The 76-page report, which is based on nine months of research in six regions, documents several raids that targeted apparently innocent young people suspected of using drugs. In one example, the report says the agency's Tula region branch dispatched two buses with SOBR special troops to raid several apartments and a cafe in the town of Bezhetsk on March 3. The masked and armed troops beat several young men, handcuffed them and illegally held them at the agency's office for almost 24 hours, it says. No charges were filed against the young men.

Report co-author Olga Fyodorova, of the Moscow Helsinki Group, said the drug control agency refused to comment on the raid or any of its other activities.

"All attempts to seek cooperation and clarification about certain incidents were brushed off by the agency's

personnel," she said. "Sometimes they said that the information was secret, but usually they said that they had no permission from above to cooperate."

Calls to drug control officials went unanswered Tuesday.

Shortly after the report was released, Interfax quoted agency spokesman Alexander Mikhailov as saying that "the report was a combination of scholastic ideas by people who have no idea about the goals and methods of the agency." He was quoted as saying that the public should ignore the report and that his agency might go to court over its release.

Late Tuesday, however, Interfax said it was withdrawing its article at the request of the drug control agency. It did not elaborate.

The Federal Drug Control Service has courted controversy since its creation in 2003, most notably for aggressively seeking out veterinarians who use ketamine, an anesthetic commonly used in pet operations that was included on a list of illegal substances. It also has cracked down on dacha owners with poppy plants growing on their property.

The agency has an army of 40,000 personnel, culled mostly from the disbanded tax police. The agency's critics have suggested that the agency was created to find jobs for the tax police officers rather than to fight the drug trade.

Fyodorova said the law did not spell out the status of a drug control officer -- unlike a regular police officer -- and that that opened the door for numerous human rights violations.

"The legislation regulating the work of the agency has many loopholes ... and does not spell out measures for internal control and responsibility," Indem researcher Vladimir Rymsky wrote in the report.

The report is based on nine months of research, ending in July, in the regions of Nizhegorodsk, Tula, Marii-El, Tatarstan, Chita and Kaliningrad.

Its release came just a week after the Cabinet approved a $127 million program to fight illegal drugs over the next four years. The bulk of the money was earmarked for the Federal Drug Control Service.

While the report was being presented Tuesday, Federal Drug Control Service chief Viktor Cherkesov was attending a Moscow presentation of a new United Nations report on the drug situation in Afghanistan, which is blamed as the source of much of the world's illegal drugs.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Drug Control Agency, told reporters that the UN had recorded the first notable decline in opium cultivation in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban but that drug production remained high due to favorable weather, The Associated Press reported.

Cherkesov said his agency recorded a sharp increase in the amount of illegal drugs coming into Russia from Afghanistan over the summer.

He also said the flow of Afghan heroin had seriously aggravated the HIV/AIDS problem in Russia and Ukraine, where drugs are usually injected.

According to the Federal Drug Control Service, 493,600 drug addicts were registered as of 2004. The actual number of drug users is thought to be at least eight to 10 times higher.