On guard against illicit cigarette trade

In the evening of 8 September, officers of the Customs Service of the Republic of Moldova seized almost 2 million illicit cigarettes at the administrative boundary line. The cigarettes were detected in a truck full of sand thanks to the law enforcers’ professional risk analysis. On this occasion, EUBAM congratulates the Customs Service of the Republic of Moldova on the good-performed job and wishes more such successful operations in the future.

Illicit tobacco trade is a key threat in EUBAM’s area of operations making it one of the highest priorities for the Mission. Especially, this notorious phenomenon is acute at the central segment of the Mission’s area of operation. The problem is rooted in previous excessive import of cigarettes to Transnistrian region, when in 2020 approximately 1.7 billion cigarettes were legally imported to the region. At the same time, the elevated risk of illicit cigarette trade is provoked by the discrepancy between cigarette taxation levels in Chisinau and Tiraspol. Consequently, on the right bank of the Nistru River you will pay 2.4 EUR for the average pack of cigarettes, on the left bank you will buy it for a little more than 1 EUR. Considering the proximity of the European market with considerably higher prices for tobacco produce, illicit trade is a real cornucopia for all sorts of smuggling activities.

Hence, EUBAM has been actively supporting and assisting partner services in their fight against illicit tobacco since 2005. Through advisory activity on risk analysis and regular on-the-job mentoring on perpetrators’ modi operandi, the Mission continues to enhance operational and strategic capacities of Ukrainian and Moldovan law enforcers at the different levels. Finally, yet importantly, it is essential to highlight the activity of EUBAM-driven Task Force Tobacco Group, which creates a unique platform for strategic cooperation between law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, representatives of EU, and major cigarette producers.

Head of EUBAM Mission meets the top management of the Moldovan Border Police

On 13 August, in Chisinau, the Head of EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) Slawomir Pichor held the first working meeting with Chief Commissioner Rosian Vasiloi, the newly appointed Head of the Moldovan General Border Police Inspectorate.

The parties summarized the jointly achieved results and outlined the prospects for future cooperation. In this regard, the Head of the General Border Police Inspectorate expressed his sincere appreciation for EUBAM’s work and stressed the importance of intensifying cooperation with EUBAM, which has been and remains a reliable partner in the integrated management of the state border. He also briefly introduced the key priorities of the Border Police development for the near future. On his part, Head of EUBAM presented current EUBAM key activities related to the modernization of the border management and fighting cross-border crime as well as  the new format of operations in southern and northern segments of the MD-UA border.

“I congratulate you most warmly both on my behalf and my team for your appointment for this important position. I trust that together we would move forward with the implementation of the Integrated Border Management concept at the Moldova – Ukraine state border”, Slawomir Pichor said.

Strengthening cooperation in supporting Transnistrian region – related confidence building measures

On 13 August, in Chisinau, the Head of EU Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) Slawomir Pichor, together with the Head of EU Delegation to the Republic of Moldova Ambassador Peter Michalko, met with new Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration Vlad Kulminski and congratulated him on his appointment.

The discussions focused on the latest developments in the Transnistrian settlement process and the ongoing projects for the wellbeing of the citizens from both bank of Nistru River and for facilitating the international trade across the region.

The interlocutors also reviewed the activities related to the Transnistrian issue carried out by the EUBAM in line with its current mandate, noting the need to strengthen interaction, coordinating efforts and use available technical expertise to generate viable solutions to the problems affecting the inhabitants of both banks of the Nistru.

“I look forward to working closely with you to further strengthen our cooperation in supporting Transnistrian region – related confidence building measures”, Slawomir Pichor said.

EUBAM shares good practices on radiological emergency response

On 7 July, EUBAM has organized an online workshop on radiological emergency response. High-profile specialists from Ukrainian State Border Guard and Customs Services, Moldovan Border Police together with representatives of nuclear and radiological agencies of both countries took part in the event.

In a course of the workshop EUBAM experts presented EU procedures on detection, containment, transportation, and disposal of nuclear materials. Using the example of Germany and Bulgaria the Mission’s experts demonstrated European practices on radiological emergency response at the strategic and operational levels. At the same time, Moldovan and Ukrainian professionals showcased both countries’ modi operandi employed in case of radioactive materials detection and exchanged experience in handling such cases. Considering the importance of real-life practice for improving operational response to radiological threats, the participants have agreed to develop and conduct a practical exercise.

General Slawomir Pichor, Head of the European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine welcomed the decision to hold a practical exercise. The Head of Mission also underlined the importance of joint action in tackling radioactive materials. “When radiological and nuclear threat is detected, it requires swift and coordinated reaction from multiple agencies and synergy among all the participants to successfully neutralize it. Effective cooperation is even more crucial for management of response to such incidents if they are of cross-border nature. Therefore, I would like to highlight the importance of this event, which created a platform for exchanging experience and expanding cooperation at the national and international levels,” the Head of Mission said.

EUBAM facilitates investigation on heroin trafficking

Geographically situated on the heroin trafficking route originating in the Middle East, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova are exposed to numerous attempts and new methods to smuggle drugs through their countries. Therefore, to successfully fight drug smuggling the Mission puts all its efforts to support international cooperation. This way, thanks to EUBAM-facilitated investigation, on 19 June 2021, law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Moldova, together with their Ukrainian counterparts, arrested five drug traffickers and seized 235 kg of heroin bound for the EU. 

 

The large-scale international investigation that involved about one hundred law enforcement officers from Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova began in December last year. Upon the request from the partner services, the Mission provided its advice and assistance to the investigation, creating a platform for cross-border cooperation between law enforcement agencies of both countries. In a course of the joint investigation, it was revealed that an international organized crime group comprised of Turkish and Moldovan citizens created a logistic hub for drug trafficking in the Republic of Moldova. Under the guise of companies specialized in the import and export of construction materials the criminals organized a supply of heroin concealed in bricks. The perpetrators were smuggling heroin from Iran through the territory of Ukraine to Moldova and then further to the EU. As the result of the investigation, law enforcers shut down the international drug trafficking route, bringing to justice 2 Turkish and 3 Moldovan citizens.  

 

A row of joint operational meetings under the auspice of EUBAM not only led to the successful investigation but also enhanced the Moldovan-Ukrainian police and judicial cooperation against illicit drug trafficking. The Head of EUBAM, General Slawomir Pichor highlighted the great joint work demonstrated by the Ukrainian and Moldovan law enforcement agencies. “I would like to congratulate the law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine on successful joint investigation. In the end, the effective cross-border cooperation and the operational information exchange proved once again to be a very useful and effective tool in the fight against transnational organized crime”, the Head of EUBAM concluded.

EUBAM bolsters cooperation between Ukrainian and Moldovan security services

On 11 June 2021, under the auspice of EUBAM, high-level representatives of the Security and Intelligence Service of the Republic of Moldova (SIS) and the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU) held a trilateral meeting in Odesa. The main goal of the meeting was to broaden cooperation between security services of both countries, enhance information exchange and step up capacities to fight cross-border crime at the Moldova-Ukraine border.

In the course of the meeting representatives of two security services discuss cooperation in the light of new threats and shifting modi operandi of organized cross-border crime. The parties exchanged information on criminal activities alongside Moldova-Ukraine border and shared best practices on combating it. Ukrainian and Moldovan high-level security officials discussed counteracting illicit firearms trafficking, smuggling of drugs, tobacco, and alcohol. At the same time, the issue of trafficking in human beings was scrutinized by the participants who highlighted vulnerable areas and possible mitigating measures, as well as prospects for future joint activities.

The Information and Security Service of the Republic of Moldova stressed the significance of further development of trilateral cooperation within the EUBAM platform. “Interaction in this format gives a unique opportunity to debate on concrete issues and identify solutions that help to counter smuggling of narcotic and radioactive substances, alcohol and tobacco products at the Moldova-Ukraine border. Despite COVID-19 international restrictive measures, achieving constant interaction and exchange of information on existing risks and threats in the border area significantly contributes to ensuring security at the national and regional levels”, the Head of the Moldovan Delegation stated. In this regard, he also expressed gratitude to the Head of the EUBAM for his diligent work in maintaining good partnership and cooperation.

On their side, the Security Service of Ukraine welcomed EUBAM’s initiative on bringing together representatives of Ukrainian and Moldovan security services, underlining the importance of enhancing cooperation with their colleagues from the Republic of Moldova. In this context, the Head of the Ukrainian Delegation mentioned: „Today, we have agreed to strengthen cooperation on intelligence exchange and risk analysis at the Moldova-Ukraine border. At the end of the day, it is the cooperation of our two special services that will make it possible to better combat cross-border crime, illicit trafficking in firearms, explosives, tobacco products, etc.”

Concluding the meeting, General Slawomir Pichor, the Head of EUBAM stated: “To date, the Mission together with security services of the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine have enjoyed effective cooperation. Today, we were able to step it up even further. Thanks to this meeting, we mapped out priorities and established good foundations for enhancing cooperation. I trust that this trilateral meeting will boost information exchange and improve responses to the challenges both services are facing at the Moldova-Ukraine border. At the same time, I would like to reiterate EUBAM’s readiness to provide strategic, analytical, and operational support.”

DG NEAR Deputy Director-General and EU Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova visit EUBAM HQ in Odesa

On 5 June 2021, Deputy Director-General at Directorate-General Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR), Ms Katarína Mathernová, together with the European Union Ambassador to the Republic of Moldova, H.E. Peter Michalko, paid a visit to the headquarters of European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) in Odesa. The enforcement of the priorities and objectives of the Mission’s working program was the main topic addressed by the two officials with the Head of EUBAM, General Slawomir Pichor.

Within this context, the Mission’s main achievements over the 15 years of activity, as well as the practical implementation arrangements for the Mission’s current mandate, in force until 30 November 2023, were discussed. The parties also tackled the implementation of the Integrated Border Management (IBM) concept in the region in the context of the national IBM strategies of the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine and EU technical assistance programs. Additionally, the high officials exchanged views on the legislative initiatives towards the resumption of the criminal liability for goods smuggling in Ukraine aimed at effectively curbing the cross-border crime.

Throughout the meeting, EUBAM’s support to the settlement of the Transnistrian issue, IBM implementation and combatting cross-border crime were exemplified by concrete initiatives and measures put into effect together with the Moldovan and Ukrainian customs and border agencies.

EUBAM completes joint educational program with Odessa I.I. Mechnikov National University

On 26 May, EUBAM concluded the joint educational program held together with Odesa I.I. Mechnikov National University in the first half of 2021. In the light of this, EUBAM organized a study trip to the Odesa Sea Port for the graduate students, as the last session of the University’s EU-Ukraine Integration Course.

There, EUBAM, together with representatives of border and custom authorities, presented and discussed with the students real-life aspects of their daily work in the port in order for them to gain greater understanding on the topics introduced during the first three theoretical sessions. At that time, EUBAM’s experts from Finland, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania visited the University and briefed the participants of the course about the Mission’s mandate, its contribution to the regional security and economic development. Therefore, students expanded their knowledge on a wide range of topics related to the EUBAM’s work, such as integrated border management and fighting cross-border crime.

Taking the students out of the classroom into the real world was nevertheless a great way to spark their interest and partake in an enjoyable learning experience. At the end of the study visit, top management of the Mission awarded certificates to the best-performing students and congratulated them on successful completion of the course.

EUBAM responds to Dark Web challenges

The Dark Web has become a notorious criminal hub that according to its online nature operates regardless the borders. The anonymity of illicit online activity not only encourages illegal actions, but also disguises them from law enforcement agencies. To help our partner services tackle this challenge, on 25 May, EUBAM in cooperation with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has organized an online workshop on Dark Web investigation with the participation of 30 high-level representatives of law-enforcement agencies of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova.

During a live demonstration, experts from Germany, Spain and Thailand walked the participants through the technical details of Dark Web operations. The UNODC specialists shared best international practices for investigating crime on the Dark Web, using real life scenarios from their own countries. At the same time, special attention was paid to cryptocurrencies and the way payment methods work on the Dark Web. The workshop was also focused on national legislation and how to conduct Dark Web investigations within its boundaries.

“We should take into account the constantly changing character of the Dark Web phenomena and its cross-jurisdictional nature. If we neglect it, perpetrators might be encouraged by the lack of enforcement to conduct more and more illicit activities using the Dark Web. Therefore, it is crucial that law enforcers constantly enhance their knowledge on this topic, share experience and collaborate across agencies,” stated Slawomir Pichor, Head of the European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine.

Head of Mission welcomes Odesa citizens celebrating Europe Day

On 15 May, General Slawomir Pichor, the Head of EUBAM, has participated in the flag-raising ceremony that was held on the occasion of Europe Day celebration at the Odesa Regional State Administration. That day representatives of diplomatic core, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, local authorities, and hundreds of people gathered to celebrate the important date and raise the flags of the European Union and Ukraine.

Congratulating Ukrainian people on Europe Day, the Head of Mission highlighted that Ukraine is already building its European future through concrete actions. At the same time Head of EUBAM underlined Ukraine’s willingness to strengthen multilateralism, peace, sustainable development, free and fair trade, human rights, and democracy.

“Today’s event is not just well-established tradition, it is not just a flag raising ceremony, this is a chance for Ukrainian people to join European family in celebrating our shared values. This EU flag here stands as a confirmation of Ukrainian aspirations towards the European future.  And as those flags are waving side by side – European Union and Ukraine are standing shoulder by shoulder in mutual understanding and solidarity.”

EUBAM remains on guard against health and economic hazards

Tobacco products being harmful on their own do even more harm when laws that should control them are breached. In the Republic of Moldova, as in any country, enforcement of tobacco control legislation is pivotal for the creation of a transparent and controlled market of tobacco products. That is why, on 31March, EUBAM has organized an online workshop devoted to this issue. The event brought together high-level officials from Moldovan Customs Service and the National Public Health Agency, alongside the EU High-Level Adviser on Customs and Tax Policy.

During the workshop, participants debated legal aspects of tobacco control, including requirements for import and health labelling of such products. EUBAM experts shared an analysis of the cigarette market in region. At the end of the event, representatives of the Moldovan Customs and National Public Health Agency agreed to elaborate a Cooperation Protocol aimed at enforcing tobacco control and impeding the illicit tobacco trade.

The high-level Moldovan officials from both agencies welcomed the EUBAM initiative and invited all relevant stakeholders from the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine to join and coordinate efforts on counteracting the illicit tobacco trade. Joint action on the enforcement of tobacco control legislation as well as strengthened efforts towards bringing imported tobacco products in compliance with national health regulations would contribute both to the reduction of cross-border crime, reinforcement of the national budgets, and to health of the citizens.

EUBAM supports its partners in strategic intelligence analysis

When COVID-19 threatens the health and wellbeing of Ukrainian and Moldovan citizens, firearms and drug traffickers, smugglers and organized crime groups develop their modi operandi trying to take advantage of the pandemic. Considering these threats, building up the capacity of partner services is a Mission’s priority. Therefore, on 24-25 March, EUBAM in cooperation with Europol – the European Union law enforcement agency – has organized online mentoring sessions on strategic intelligence analysis.

 

Representatives of nine different law-enforcement agencies of Ukraine and Moldova were participating in the joint lectures and workshops aimed at enhancing their strategic planning capabilities. During the exercises, Ukrainian and Moldovan law enforcers, together, practiced mapping out a strategic overview of domestic and international threats. Europol experts paid a special attention to sharing new approaches towards gathering intelligence and its analysis. The experts showcased the best and state-of-the-art practices from across EU member states including recent operation ARMSTRONG that led to the seizure of 300 units of different weapons and 600 pieces of ammunition. 

 

Enhanced expertise in strategic intelligence analysis will facilitate prevention and investigation of cross-border crime, as well as contribute to safety and security not only across the Moldova-Ukraine border but in the entire region.

Head of EUBAM meets with the Moldovan Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration in Chisinau

On 12 March, the Head of EUBAM, Slawomir Pichor, met with the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration, Olga Cebotari, at the premises of the Government of the Republic of Moldova in Chisinau.

The parties discussed and shared opinions on topical issues of the Transnistria settlement process: participation of Transnistrian economic operators in international trade and admission of vehicles from Transnistrian region to international road traffic.

The Head of EUBAM reconfirmed the Mission’s readiness to continue its advisory support to the Transnistria settlement process and confidence building through delivery of technical solutions and capacity building events to specialists from both banks of the Nistru river.

On her part, the Deputy Prime Minister emphasized the Moldovan authorities’ interest in receiving assistance and technical expertise to back the efforts in identifying viable solutions to topical issues on the settlement negotiations agenda.

At the end, the officials expressed their willingness to continue the dialogue on various aspects of mutual interest, as well as to strengthen the interaction, to prompt sustainable solutions to the Transnistria-related confidence building measures.

EUBAM continues to support its Moldovan and Ukrainian Partner Services in fighting illicit firearms trafficking

On 24 February, EUBAM and representatives of law enforcement agencies from Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, together with Europol, Frontex, OSCE and UNODC held, in a video-conference format, the third operational meeting of the Arms Working Group (AWG).

The participating agencies discussed and approved the AWG Action Plan for 2021, which includes activities such as regular and operational meetings, threat assessments, joint operations, international workshops and trainings.

Furthermore, the final version of the Guidebook on Controlled Delivery, prepared by EUBAM, in cooperation with the members of the AWG from the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, was introduced and approved during the meeting. The document aims at improving law enforcement and judicial cooperation between authorities involved in each of the countries, as well as knowledge of the national legislation and practices, thereby facilitating controlled deliveries as part of the joint efforts in fighting illicit firearms trafficking

The European agencies, Europol and Frontex, briefed the participants on the strategic picture of illicit trafficking in weapons, ammunition and explosives in Europe with a special focus on southeastern Europe, providing operational examples. Additionally, Europol offered to conduct a theoretical training on risk analysis for the members of the AWG.

OSCE representatives from Ukraine provided the AWG members with a comprehensive overview of OSCE projects in the region, giving an analytical picture of the proliferation of weapons in the area. OSCE will actively support the activities of the AWG by providing specific theoretical and practical training sessions for the law enforcement officers working in the field.

In their turn, the representatives of the Moldovan and Ukrainian law enforcement agencies gave an overview of the situation on the ground at their common border.

EUBAM briefed the participants on the results of the joint operation “ORION II” that aimed at preventing and counteracting illicit firearms trafficking in the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, including the EU external borders with the two partner countries. Although affected by the coronavirus pandemic, the operation resulted into a significant number of detentions of small arms (194 pcs.), light weapons (282 pcs.), ammunition (6,389 pcs.) and explosives (19 pcs./4,65 kg).

In the end, the members of the Arms Working Group expressed their content with the output of the meeting and affirmed their faith that the future activities planned within the Group would significantly increase the international cooperation and enhance their operational capacity in counteracting this phenomenon.

Nota bene: Arms Working Group was established in December 2019, at EUBAM and its Partner Services’ initiative, and with the support of Europol, Frontex and OSCE, for enhancing the efforts of the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine in combating illicit firearms trafficking.

EUBAM and Odesa Regional State Administration coordinate efforts in border management-related matters

On 15 February 2021, the Head of the European Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM), Slawomir Pichor, met with the Head of the Odesa Regional State Administration, Serhii Hrynevetskyi, to discuss joint efforts in developing the border infrastructure in Odesa Region.

Head of EUBAM congratulated Mr Serhii Hrynevetskyi on his recent appointment and expressed gratitude to the Odesa Regional State Administration for the good cooperation. He also informed the Governor about prolongation of the EUBAM’s mandate till the end of November 2023 and about its three key areas of activity: Transnistria-related confidence-building measures, border management, and fighting the cross-border crime. In this connection, Mr Pichor briefed the Governor on the European Union’s support in the reconstruction of several border crossing points in Odesa region and the implementation of the Integrated Border Management provisions: joint border control, joint border patrolling and information exchange.

Mr Serhii Hrynevetskiy appreciated EUBAM’s contribution to the development of Odesa Region, particularly in improving border infrastructure, facilitation of trade and contact between people of Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova. Mr Hrynevetskiy particularly highlighted the projects on the reconstruction of border crossing points in Odesa region to facilitate the cargo and passenger traffic and the support in the coordination activities with the Moldovan authorities, i.e. roads / bridges construction projects and border demarcation process.

The parties agreed to consolidate their efforts in upgrading border infrastructure and increasing the border security.

Season’s Greetings and A Happy New Year 2021!

The European Union Border Assistance Mission to Moldova and Ukraine (EUBAM) wishes you a happy holiday season and a prosperous new year 2021!

We are looking forward to continuing our cooperation with all our partners in the new year 2021!

Moving forward with the joint control implementation at Moldova-Ukraine border

On 17 December, a web conference on the implementation of joint control at the Moldova-Ukraine border was coordinated by EUBAM, in cooperation with IOM, bringing together representatives of the State Border Guard Service of Ukraine, the Border Police of the Republic of Moldova, the State Customs Service of Ukraine and the Customs Service of the Republic of Moldova, that share competencies on that matter.

The main topics on the agenda were the border and customs issues associated with the launch of full-fledged joint control at ‘Kuchurhan-Pervomaisk’ and ‘Giurgiulesti-Reni’ border crossing points (BCPs). In that regard, the parties provided an overview over the refurbishment works and discussed the organization preparations and the time frame for launching the full-fledged joint control at the two BCPs, in conformity with COVID-19 restriction measures.

Additionally, border and customs agencies’ representatives of the two countries discussed matters of common interest connected to the border infrastructure development plans at the Moldova-Ukraine border for 2021 and beyond, as well as the state of affairs in the implementation arrangements on the Agreement on Joint Control concerning the moving of persons, vehicles and goods across the Ukraine-Moldovan state border.

Task Force Tobacco discusses the fight against illicit tobacco trade under the COVID-19

On 18-19 November, the EUBAM Annual Task Force Tobacco meeting was held in a video-conference format. The event brought together representatives of law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Moldova, Ukraine, Poland, Romania, EU agencies such as Europol and OLAF, as well as Ukrainian Tobacco Association “Ukrtutun” and the major cigarette producers.

The event provided an excellent opportunity for the participants to share their experience and exchange views on trends, modus operandi, risks, and countermeasures for preventing illicit tobacco trade. It was noted that the COVID-19 pandemic caused a significant decrease in the small-scale cigarette smuggling, though it did not affect the large-scale illicit whites trafficking by transnational organized crime groups. That posed a high pressure on the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine as transit countries, as well as on EU member states as the final destinations. The participants also acknowledged a growing illicit cigarette market in the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, highlighting that increase of excise taxes for cigarettes and presence of organized crime groups make both countries more vulnerable for cigarette smuggling and illegal production for internal consumption.

In this connection, the Task Force Tobacco pointed out the importance of information exchange on risky cigarette consignments, as well as increased investments and use of non-intrusive cargo examination technologies such as X-ray scanners. Those would improve detection of cigarettes and other illicit goods, enhancing the efficiency of border and customs controls. It was furthermore emphasized the need of strengthening institutions’ legal enforcement capabilities, in addition to introducing the penalization of excisable goods smuggling and deterrent and punitive measures into criminal laws, mandatory for effectively address or minimize those risks.