US Department of States Turkmenistan Turkmenistan remains a key transit country for the smuggling of narcotics and precursor chemicals. The flow of opiates from Afghanistan, such as heroin, opium and other opium-based drugs destined for markets in Turkey, Russia and Europe, enter Turkmenistan from Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan.
I. Summary Turkmenistan is a transshipment route for narcotics traffickers attempting to smuggle Afghan opiates to Turkish, Russian and European markets, by several different routes, including through Iran. Turkmenistan itself is not a major producer or source country for illegal drugs or precursor chemicals. It shares a rugged and remote 744-kilometer border with Afghanistan and a 992-kilometer boundary with Iran. Most illegal drug seizures occur along those borders. Major developments during 2009 included the arrest and indictment of 20 physicians on the staff of a prison in Mary province for selling illegal narcotics to prisoners and the arrest of an alleged large-scale female drug trafficker, dubbed the “Drug Godmother,” in Dashoguz. According to official statistics, Turkmen authorities seized a total of more than 1,009 kilograms of illegal narcotics in the first six months of 2009.
At a session of the State Security Council in June 2009, President Berdimuhamedov noted publicly that despite measures taken to control illicit drug trafficking, this “evil” had not been eliminated. He also emphasized the need to intensify efforts to combat drug trafficking and drug abuse at both the national and international levels. While Turkmenistan continues its limited cooperation on narcotics enforcement with international organizations and diplomatic missions, its law enforcement agencies are still hampered by a lack of resources, training and equipment. Although reliable statistics are unavailable, internal narcotics sales have reportedly dropped since President Berdimuhamedov stopped granting pardons to prisoners previously convicted of drug-related crimes. Turkmenistan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention.
II. Status of Country
Turkmenistan remains a key transit country for the smuggling of narcotics and precursor chemicals. The flow of opiates from Afghanistan, such as heroin, opium and other opium-based drugs destined for markets in Turkey, Russia and Europe, enter Turkmenistan from Afghanistan, Iran and Uzbekistan. The government directs the bulk of its law enforcement resources and manpower towards stopping this flow of drugs from Afghanistan, especially focusing on the share headed for Iran. Common methods of transporting illegal narcotics include concealment in trucks or passenger vehicles, deliveries by pedestrian carriers or animal transport, and in some cases, by concealment in the body cavities or stomachs of humans and animals. Turkmenistan’s law enforcement efforts at the Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan border have been more focused on interdicting smuggled commercial goods than on narcotics, thus providing an opening for drug traffickers. Commercial truck traffic from Iran continues to be heavy (reportedly more than 60,000 vehicles per year), and Caspian Sea ferry traffic from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan and Russia continues to be an opportune smuggling route. In January 2009, President Berdimuhamedov transferred Colonel Myrat Islamov, the head of the State Counter Narcotics Service (SCNS) to head the State Border Service. Thereafter, the SCNS was headed by Acting Chief Serdar Batyrov (formerly the Deputy SCNS Head), until July, when a Deputy Minister of National Security was put in charge.
The SCNS held a “drug burn” in June, an event that coincided with the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, during which 1.2 tons of narcotics were destroyed.
III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 2009
Policy Initiatives. On May 2, President Berdimuhamedov signed into law a new Code of Criminal Procedure. The new code provides a right to bail for the accused prior to trial and also gives investigators the prerogative of deciding themselves, without authorization from prosecutors ,to initiate and to close criminal investigations, and also whether and when to conduct searches. The previous Code required that investigators seek the permission of a committee with representatives from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Ministries of the Interior and of National Security, municipalities, or members of the “Council of Elders,” complicating the investigation process.
On June 1, the Law on Combating Legalization of Proceeds from Crime (i.e. money laundering) and Terrorist Financing was passed, an important step in the development of a comprehensive anti-money laundering system in Turkmenistan. The Turkmen government earlier announced a National Program for Combating Illegal Drug Trafficking and Assistance to Drug and Psychotropic Substance Addicts for the period 2006 to 2010. Key elements of the program’s agenda include increased regional cooperation to prevent drug and precursor trafficking, prevention of drug-related crimes committed by minors, enhanced application of technology-based border security, enhanced training for law enforcement agencies to combat organized crime, increased counter-terrorism efforts, and training in drug trafficking and money laundering. The National Program also provides for cooperation with the U.S., international organizations and with other countries through their diplomatic missions in Ashgabat.
Law Enforcement Efforts. The Turkmen government continues to give priority to counternarcotics law enforcement, and the government has paid special attention to improving the technical capacity of law enforcement agencies. Turkmenistan’s drug seizure data for the first six months of 2009 is as follows: Heroin: 154 kilograms 367 grams; Opium: 562 kilograms 219 grams; Marijuana: 94 kilograms. 519.5 grams; Hashish: 156 kilograms 15 grams; Poppy straw: 42 kilograms. 160 grams; Total: 1009 kilograms. In June of 2009, SCNS reported that a narcotics ring led by Rakhatay Razzakova, dubbed the “Drug Godmother,” was discovered and the perpetrators, mostly close relatives of Razzakova, were arrested and charged with large-scale heroin trafficking. Along with the criminal indictment, her property was confiscated and her admission of guilt and request for forgiveness were broadcast on state-run television.
Corruption. The government does not, as a matter of policy, encourage or facilitate the illicit production or distribution of narcotics or other controlled substances. Nevertheless, law enforcement officials’ low salaries and broad general powers foster an environment in which corruption occurs. A general distrust of the police by the public, fueled by police officers soliciting bribes, indicates a problematic level of corruption in law enforcement. Payments to lower-level officials at border crossing points to facilitate passage of smuggled goods occur frequently. Reports persist that senior government officials are directly linked to the drug trade. In May, twenty employees of the infirmary of the penitentiary in Mary province, including the director, two deputy directors, chief physician, physicians, practitioners and prison guards, were arrested for selling illegal narcotics to prisoners. All of the accused have been detained in Ashgabat at the Ministry of National Security’s detention facility and are being refused visits by either attorneys or family members. Reportedly, an Iranian national who was serving a sentence in the penitentiary had been “hospitalized” at the facility for 18 months, an arrangement that allowed him to sell drugs to prisoners and hospital patients. High-level prison and hospital officials were reportedly aware of and involved in the arrangements. The operation and arrests were carried out by SCNS jointly with the Ministry of National Security. During a May session of the State Security Council, President Berdimuhamedov dismissed the Minister of Internal Affairs (MIA) Orazgeldi Amanyradov, and made reference to what he termed the lack of efficiency of the former Minister’s work, as well as the “ongoing shortcomings and breaches of the law” in the work of the police force. He cited the Mary prison incident as an example of the Minister’s failings. In early August, an Air Force commander was arrested in Tejen (near the Iranian border) in Ahal Province for attempting to smuggle seven kilograms of heroin across the border from Iran. The commander’s wife was also arrested. The involvement of high-ranking military and Border Service officials in cross-border smuggling is reportedly rampant among their ranks.
Agreements and Treaties. Turkmenistan is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, the 1961 UN Single Convention and its 1972 Protocol, and the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Turkmenistan is a party to the UN Convention against Corruption, the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and its Protocols against Migrant Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons, and Illegal Manufacturing and Trafficking in Firearms.
Turkmenistan and the United States signed a letter of agreement for the provision of U.S. government counternarcotics assistance in September 2001. During the past year, the U.S. DEA has had discussions with SCNS regarding joint counternarcotics training programs, and SCNS has asked for specific assistance in training forensics laboratory chemists. In June 2007, the governments of Turkmenistan and Iran agreed to form a special joint committee to combat narcotics trafficking. The following month, the presidents of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan signed a joint communiqué noting the need to further develop their counternarcotics and counterterrorism cooperation. Also in July 2007, Turkmenistan joined Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in the establishment of a UN-led Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Center. In September 2007, the presidents of Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan signed a joint communiqué acknowledging the need to further develop cooperation in counternarcotics efforts. The same month, the U.S. signed the second Amendment to the Letter of Agreement for additional funding of U.S. counternarcotics assistance.
Cultivation/Production. Turkmenistan is not a significant producer of illegal drugs, although small-scale opium and marijuana cultivation is believed to occur in remote mountain and desert areas. Each spring, the government conducts a limited aerial inspection of outlying areas in search of illegal poppy cultivation. Law enforcement officials eradicate any opium crops that are discovered. According to the State Counter-Narcotics Coordination Committee, law enforcement officials conduct Operation “Mak” (“poppy”) twice a year to locate and destroy poppy fields. Reports on illegal poppy cultivation are occasionally published in the weekly newspaper “Adalat.” One such report described an alleged purchase of cannabis seed from an unidentified person in March 2008 at a bazaar in Tejen. The accused then planted the seed in his own garden and produced 153 grams of marijuana, which he later sold for $100. Both perpetrators (buyer and seller) were sentenced to 11 and 10 years in prison, respectively. Similarly, a case was reported of a father and son accused of cultivating 1000 opium poppy plants in 2007 and then selling a portion of the dried poppy straw. The police searched his residence and reportedly seized three kilograms of poppy straw, after which he was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment. A third individual was arrested for cultivating more than 2500 poppy plants and was subsequently sentenced to five years in prison.
Drug Flow/Transit. Turkmenistan is a primary transit corridor for smuggling organizations seeking to transport opium and heroin to markets in Turkey, Russia and the whole of Europe, and for the shipment of precursor chemicals to Afghanistan. There are air, land and sea smuggling routes through Turkmenistan. The government’s recent efforts to improve border crossing stations, which began in 2007, could lead to higher seizure rates, but traffickers could respond by developing alternate smuggling routes. Turkmenistan’s two major border control agencies, the State Customs Service and the State Border Service, have received increased attention and funding for their drug enforcement duties.. Nevertheless, systemic deficits in necessary equipment, training, resource and facilities will take time to improve. Border crossing points with rudimentary inspection facilities for screening vehicle traffic and without reliable communication systems have been identified by the government and are being improved. Nevertheless, Turkmenistan is likely to continue to serve as a major transit route for illegal drugs and precursors.
Domestic Programs/Demand Reduction. Currently, the Ministry of Health operates seven drug treatment clinics, one in Ashgabat, one in Serdar City, and one in each of the five provincial administrative centers. Addicts can receive treatment at these clinics without revealing their identity and all clinic visits are kept confidential. Drug addiction is a prosecutable crime and persons convicted are subject to jail sentences, although judicial officials usually sentence addicts to treatment. It is still difficult to obtain any detailed statistical information about the number of drug addicts in Turkmenistan, but the President announced during an open presidential cabinet meeting that there are more than 30,000 drug addicts in Turkmenistan. Although not yet implemented, the government is currently considering internationally funded prevention programs. A strategy for counternarcotics efforts and assistance to drug addicts is included within the framework of the 2006-2010 National Drug Program. In August 2008, a Drug Demand Reduction Program (DDRP), funded by the Department of State (INL), was launched by the Turkmenistan Red Crescent. It aims to increase the awareness of young people and adults of the harmful effects of narcotics. DDRP headquarters in Ashgabat has opened branches in Turkmenbashy and in each of the five provincial administrative centers. DDRP has been working closely with drug treatment clinic and public organizations. On the occasion of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in June, the DDRP conducted several public activities, including the distribution of brochures on the harmful effects of drug abuse, drawing contests for students and public discussions. The events aroused much public interest, as well as enthusiasm about discussing the issue openly in public for the first time on the streets of Ashgabat and other cities.
IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs
Bilateral Cooperation. In addition to the previously completed construction of new border crossing stations at Imamnazar (Afghan border) and Altin Asir (Iranian border), at a total cost of USD 4.2 million, the U.S. funded and oversaw the construction of another border crossing post at Ferap (Uzbek border). The total U.S. contribution to that project, which was completed in October, reached USD 5.5 million. In October 2008, 20 law enforcement officers graduated from the second round of INL-funded English Language Training Courses, after completing ten months of language instruction. Three of the graduates (one from the Customs Service and two from the State Migration Service) were selected for a week-long study tour in Great Britain, during which they held meetings and exchanged ideas with British NGOs, parliamentarians and Metropolitan Police officers on counternarcotics and international crime issues. In December 2008, a third round of U.S.-funded English classes began, with 32 students enrolled from eight law enforcement agencies. In February, INL sent three law enforcement officials from the Prosecutor General’s office and the SCNS to the annual meeting of the American Academy of Forensic Science. Participants met with colleagues from DOJ, counterparts from other countries, including other Central Asian republics, and expanded their knowledge of forensics and recent innovations in the area of criminology. In March, two officials from the State Border Service and SCNS participated at an International Narcotics Detector Dog Conference in Almaty, Kazakhstan, organized by the Military Institute of Kazakhstan’s State Committee for National Security. The Turkmen participants reported on their approach to narcotics detector dog use in Turkmenistan, , and learned about recent trends in the detector dog use in other countries. As a follow-up to the conference, in June, the same officials traveled to Graz, Austria for a narcotics detector dog competition and familiarization visit to the Austrian Narcotics Detector Dog Center. Three training seminars, on the “History of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA),” “Interview and Interrogation,” and “Drug Identification” (on the use of INL-donated drug testers) were organized and presented during the year by a visiting DEA Special Agents.
The Road Ahead. Staying engaged with all of Turkmenistan’s counternarcotics enforcement agencies is necessary to encourage a successful partnership against narcotics trafficking. Bilateral cooperation is expected to continue, and the U.S. government plans to expand counternarcotics law enforcement agency training in Turkmenistan. As both Turkmenistan and U.S. officials identify areas for improved counternarcotics efforts, the United States will attempt to provide an appropriate, integrated and coordinated response to Turkmen training and equipment needs. The U.S. government will also encourage the government of Turkmenistan to institute long-term demand reduction efforts and improve Turkmen capacity for more efficient supply reduction through interdiction training, law enforcement institution building, the promotion of regional cooperation, and an exchange of drug-related intelligence.
US Department of States