Dramatic capture of drug smugglers re-opens borders debate

Pia Kjærsgaard banned from Facebook after calling PM “stupid and naive” over unwillingness to increase border control to target smugglers

The debate over whether Denmark should step up its border control has been re-ignited after Danish police on Sunday successfully stopped smugglers from sailing 250 kilogrammes of cannabis to Norway.

Police swooped in on the three Norwegian smugglers after they had transferred the contraband into their boat at a small harbour in north Jutland. One of the smugglers was killed and a policeman was injured after an exchange of fire.

Since the high-profile action, Norwegian police have expressed their concern about the role Denmark plays as a key transit land for illegal drugs destined for the Norwegian market, where cannabis can sell for twice the price in Denmark – the 250 kilogrammes of cannabis has a Norwegian street value of 25 million kroner.

“The smuggling of drugs from Denmark to the Norwegian coast has been a problem for many years,” Leif Vagler, spokesperson for the Agder police district in Norway, told public broadcaster DR. “They arrive on recreational boats because Norway has a long coastline that offers plenty of opportunity to anchor without being noticed.”

The majority of cannabis sold in Sweden also arrives through Denmark, according to Swedish customs agents who spoke to Berlingske newspaper.

“My best estimate is that 90 percent of all confiscated cannabis in Sweden has arrived from Denmark,” Swedish customs agent Lars Hansson told Berlingske.

The illicit cross-border trade of cannabis to Sweden is on the rise, according to Berlingske, after it was estimated that about 1.2 tonnes of cannabis was confiscated in 2012 – double the haul for 2010 and 2011 combined.

The news that Denmark is acting as a vital transport artery for drugs destined for Norway and Sweden has led Dansk Folkeparti (DF) party leader Peter Skaarup to restate his party's long-standing demand for stronger border controls around Denmark.

“We do not benefit by allowing Denmark to function as a transit country,” Skaarup told Berlingske. “Smugglers cynically choose low-risk routes and Denmark fits the bill because we don’t have much border control and because the penalties for importing cannabis is low.”

In 2011, DF made a deal with the former centre-right Venstre-Konservative government to introduce customs agents on the border with Germany, though they were disbanded several months later after the election of the current centre-left government in September 2011. Governmental emails obtained by Jyllands-Posten also revealed that the former government could find no evidence to support their claims that cross-border crime was on the rise.

At her weekly press meeting on Tuesday, PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt (Socialdemokraterne) said Sunday’s incident demonstrated that increasing border controls was pointless.

“The case demonstrates that drug smugglers are not simply driving over the border,” she said, adding that it was better to invest in police resources so that they can investigate and uncover plots to smuggle contraband.

“What we need is to ensure we have a high clearance rate and the ability to carry out the investigative work that is needed to discover that someone is one their way to a harbour with contraband.”

The three smugglers were apprehended on Sunday after a joint investigation between Danish and Norwegian police. The policeman that was injured was a member of the special action task force of the Danish domestic intelligent agency, PET, which was called in precisely because of a perceived risk that the smugglers would be armed and dangerous.

But DF’s former leader Pia Kjærsgaard was not satisfied with Thorning-Schmidt’s position and wrote a scathing criticism of the PM on Facebook.

“The prime minister is stupid and naive,” Kjærsgaard wrote. “Dansk Folkeparti’s deal to increase border control included increased patrolling of Denmark’s sea borders.  Denmark’s borders stretch all the way around Denmark.”

Kjærsgaard’s harsh words for her PM must have offended a Facebook user as the MP found herself blocked from the popular social network for 24 hours after a complaint was made against her. Her account was quickly reinstated, however, and Facebook apologised to the politician for blocking her without good reason, though she was left shaken by the incident.

“I felt like I was in North Korea,” Kjærsgaard wrote. “That Facebook removes posts and blocks pages without checking the circumstances is not good enough. It’s simply not professional.”

Putting aside Kjærsgaard’s personal attack on the PM, her position that more customs agents will result in a greater haul of contraband is supported by figures published by the populist online daily, Den Korte Avis.

While Denmark has 265 agents tasked with uncovering illegal contraband crossing the border, Sweden has around 2,500 agents. This could be why Sweden confiscates significantly more illegal drugs crossing its borders.

In the first six months of 2012, Denmark confiscated 3.2 kilogrammes of heroin and 118 kilogrammes of cannabis. In the same period, Sweden confiscated 8.5 kilogrammes of heroin and 449 kilogrammes of cannabis.

Libertarian party Liberal Alliance has suggested an altogether different approach to tackling the illicit trade of cannabis, however – simply decriminalise it.

“We believe that we should legalise cannabis,” spokesperson Simon Emil Ammitzbøll told Berlingske. “Pharmacies should be allowed to sell it before we can evaluate whether the product should be freely available on the market.”

The City Council last year had its latest attempt to legalise cannabis in the city quashed by the Justice Ministry, much to the relief of the 19 local councils in south Sweden that in November signed a joint appeal for Copenhagen to backtrack on its attempt to ease drug laws.

In a recent interview with The Copenhagen Post, Copenhagen's mayor, Frank Jensen (Socialdemokraterne) argued that legalising cannabis was the only solution to tackling the organised crime that thrives off the annual two billion kroner illegal cannabis trade in the city.

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