Samoa and American Samoa are being used by foreigners who are non-Samoans to smuggle drugs into the countries.
So claims American Samoa’s Deputy Treasurer, Keith Gebauer, in response to questions from the Samoa Observer.
Recently, the American Samoa Custom presented to a visiting delegation of various federal departments and agencies that were formed under a regional taskforce to address the increased drug related activities throughout the Pacific.
“Unfortunately, the use of the Post Office isn't a new avenue for the illegal transportation of drugs and contraband but an area that we are placing our resources to combat the importation,” he said.
“I will confirm that we discussed and highlighted numerous seizures of illegal drugs and contraband by Customs agents at all points of entry into the territory."
“These included Post Office, inter-island flights, wharf and airport. The types of contraband and illegal drugs confiscated were methamphetamines, cannabis, seeds and other types of unknown medicines."
“We also discussed several drug-related cases pending criminal proceedings.”
He also pointed to a number of incidents and seizures that involved foreign-born travelers (not from Samoa) who reach the territory through Samoa.
“These incidents and seizures included Chinese labeled medicines (often concealed) and other undeclared contraband,” he told the Samoa Observer.
Last year, Samoa’s Police Commissioner, Fuiavaili’ili Egon Keil admitted that Samoa is one of the gateways for the smuggling of drugs to bigger countries.
“But it’s not just Samoa, it’s the same for Tahiti where a yacht was recently caught with a large quantity of cocaine with a street value in millions of dollars,” he said then.
At the time, the Commissioner was elaborating on the importance of having the Pacific Transnational Crime Network (P.T.C.N.) in all the Pacific Islands.
Currently, there are 16 countries which are members of the P.T.C.N. with the newest member being American Samoa, where their Transnational Crime Unit was officially opened last month.
He emphasised the importance of P.T.C.N. which provides an inter-connected, proactive transnational criminal intelligence and investigative capability for the Pacific.
The network is a multi-agency law enforcement approach, primarily consisting of police, customs and immigration officers with close links to various other agencies.
According to the Commissioner, Samoa is not immune as the “bad guys” target the small island nations to get through to the bigger countries which have the money to buy and sell these types of drugs.
“When there are drugs, there are guns and when those two mix up, it’s always deadly and that’s why the T.C.U. in the Pacific works day and night to stop these types of transactions,” said Fuiavaili’ili.
In January, 2017, 1.4 tons of cocaine was seized in the region on two other yachts.
Samoa’s Police Commissioner further told Samoa Observer at the time that currently they are keen to get their law enforcement officers to undergo training and workshops to upskill their methods of tackling these issues.
“It’s (drug trafficking) happening in the Pacific and it will happen in Samoa if we are not watchful about securing our borders. That’s why it’s relatively important to work with Customs and the Attorney General’s Office to tackle these difficult issues.”
During the Pacific Immigration Directors Conference (P.I.D.C.) press conference, last year Agafili said criminals are using Samoa as a gateway to New Zealand and Australia.
He said aside from drugs smuggling, there is also human trafficking or people smuggling that is becoming more common and this is because of Samoa’s proximity to New Zealand and Australia.
He further stated the increase of organised crime is increasing due to the availability of technology and these crimes are happening all over the world and Samoa is no exception from being affected indirectly from these crimes.
Agafili, at the time of the press conference, stated having the Samoa Transnational Crime Unit in Samoa alongside other law enforcement agencies will assist in border protection for Samoa.