Belgium outlines seven measures to fight drug criminality
Belgium presented a seven-point federal action plan to fight against drug criminality, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo and several ministers announced during a press conference after a National Security Council meeting on Thursday.
Some of the measures had already been announced, but a clear plan containing seven points was unveiled during Thursday’s press conference.
As part of the government’s plan, a national drugs commissioner, a magistrate with ten years of experience whose name will be revealed Friday, will be appointed to coordinate the fight against drug-related crime, Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne explained.
Security at the port of Antwerp, where almost 110 tonnes of cocaine were seized last year, will also be enhanced. New police forces will be deployed, and the aim is to double these reinforcements by the end of 2024, the government says.
Customs will also be strengthened. More customs agents will be recruited, and the government will also purchase modern, mobile scanning equipment to ensure high-risk containers are always successfully scanned.
People in sensitive positions who work in and for the ports of Belgium, like CEOs and drivers, will also be searched for links with organised crime, will undergo screening conducted by the Federal Police, General Intelligence and Security Service (ADIV-SGRS) and the State Security (VSSE), Van Quickenborne explained.
The process, which is to involve the screening of over 16,000 people, has already begun, the minister added.
To clamp down on drug money laundering, the government hopes to push through a proposal through parliament that would strengthen the role of local authorities in closing down businesses linked to illegal laundering activities.
Proposals will also affect drug users as the government wants to impose heavier fines on them and ensure they are referred to help services.
For cocaine users, the fine could reach €1,000. For possession of cannabis, the fixed penalty will remain €75 for up to 10 grams and €150 for up to 20 grams. Moreover, the immediate payment of the fine for drug possession will no longer be applied exclusively to music festivals but will be extended to the entire public space.
In its seven-point plan, the federal government also says it wants to further develop cooperation with other countries and port operators regarding customs and police.
The police cooperation protocol signed a year ago between Belgium and the United Arab Emirates “is now bearing its fruits,” the government said in a press release. It allowed for a drug cartel that controlled about a third of cocaine trafficking in Europe and operated between Belgium, and Dubai, but also France, Spain and the Netherlands to be dismantled.
Cooperation will be the subject of a meeting with the authorities of the Netherlands – another country very much affected by this phenomenon – on Friday.
The meeting will involve Dutch and Belgian politicians and the five largest shipping companies in the world, Van Quickenborne explained during the press conference. He added that one of the issues that will be discussed is the safety of high-risk containers from Latin America that arrive in Belgium and the Netherlands.
(Anne-Sophie Gayet | EURACTIV.com)