Taliban bid to fix heroin prices

The U.N.’s drugs tsar told NATO that Afghan insurgents were withholding thousands of tonnes of heroin and treating their drugs like “savings accounts” to manipulate street prices in the west, according to a leaked US cable.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN office on drugs and crime, told NATO that the Taliban and organised crime gangs had withheld 12,400 tonnes of opium from the international market to keep the price of heroin and opium at a profitable level. The opium withheld was worth about $1.25bn (GBP800m). Each tonne of opium is said to be worth about $100,000 and can be used to produce 100kg of heroin.

The US cable appears to show that the UN believed the Taliban and other insurgents in Afghanistan were aware of the market and focused on maintaining a viable price for the drug. Reports on the Taliban’s involvement in the drug trade from 2009 have focused on splits between drug gangs and highlighted rivalries.

Costa’s claims, reported in a confidential document, were expressed at a meeting on 18 September 2009. He was briefing Nato and its partners on the 2009 Afghanistan Survey, the U.N.’s annual assessment of the drugs industry in the country. Afghanistan is the world’s biggest exporter of heroin and opium — most of which is grown in Helmand province, where British troops continue to lose their lives.

Under the heading “Opium Stocks Remain High”, the cable states: “Costa said that Afghanistan has 12,400 tonnes of opium stocks because it produces more than the world consumes. Costa believes that the insurgency is withholding these stocks from the market and treating them like ‘savings accounts’” Costa’s reported opinion was not part of the U.N.’s final 2009 Afghanistan survey.

According to the cable opium cultivation fell by 22% in 2009 to its lowest level in 15 years.

Costa, who retired this year, prompted international debate when he claimed billions of pounds of laundered drug money from organised crime had propped up many of the world’s leading financial institutions during the economic downturn.

According to the U.N.’s 2010 Afghanistan Survey, total 2010 opium production is estimated at 3,600 tonnes, down 48% from 2009. The decrease was largely due to a plant infection hitting the poppy—growing provinces of Helmand and Kandahar particularly hard. Yield fell to 29.2kg per hectare, from 56.1kg the previous year.

This year’s survey has acknowledged that Afghan drug lords have stockpiled some drugs. About 87% of total opium production took place in the south and 12% in the west in 2009. A spokesman for the UN declined to comment. Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2010

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2022 3:09:40 PM |

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