[/FONT] [FONT=Arial,Helvetica][/FONT] [FONT=Arial,Helvetica]UK'S ANSWER TO FBI ACCUSED OF SPIN IN DRUG SEIZURES CLAIMS
Headline-grabbing claims of record drugs seizures by Britain's answer to the FBI - the Serious Organised Crime Agency ( Soca ) - have prompted calls for a parliamentary investigation amid suspicions that the organisation is "spinning" its success.
Soca's recent boast that it has seized a record 73 tons of cocaine in its first year was widely reported across the media. But the agency is refusing to provide any evidence to back up its dramatic claims.
According to Soca's chairman, Sir Stephen Lander, a former MI5 chief, the huge haul of cocaine had a street value of UKP3bn and equalled one-fifth of the annual supply to Europe. But when The Independent on Sunday asked the agency to provide a breakdown of its cocaine seizures it stalled for 11 days before saying it was "unwilling" to provide any details.
Conservative MP David Burrowes, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Drugs Misuse Group, said Soca's figures must be investigated. "Soca can't have it both ways and claim record seizures and then refuse to give a breakdown. Otherwise the public will be right to suspect this is more spin than substance."
The agency said all but 550kg of the cocaine was seized outside the UK and en route to Europe. Sir Stephen did admit that these seizures, totalling 72.5 tons, had been in co-operation with other agencies, both British and foreign.
Defending its decision not to explain its headline claims, a spokesman said: "Soca is not prepared to provide specific details of its ongoing work - not only because many of the resulting cases are sub-judice or inquiries are continuing, but also because it isn't operationally sensible to publish a rich picture of where we are operating."
Cross-checking known cocaine seizures, the IoS has identified a maximum of 18 tons taken in five operations by ships of the Royal Navy operating in the Atlantic and Caribbean, working in co-operation with other nationalities.
In one of the seizures, a joint naval task force stopped a ship off the Cape Verde Islands last November and found 1.8 tons of cocaine. The UK forces were working with Spanish law enforcement authorities and the drugs and those arrested were taken to Spain.
In each case Soca officers appear to have had involvement. The agency has confirmed that this 18 tons is part of their 73 tons total. But it will not provide any details of who, where, how much and by whom the remaining 55 tons was seized.
In the past there were strict rules about claiming non-UK seizures. There was a set of protocols that was drawn up between the Concerted Inter-Agency Drugs Action Group and the National Audit Office. This meant that unless a UK agency was entirely responsible for a non-UK seizure then only a percentage could be claimed. There also had to be overwhelming evidence that the cocaine was destined for the UK.
But Soca says it will not follow these protocols. "We are a new and different organisation and our reporting is, in consequence, different, too."
A former senior drug investigator questioned this approach: "It is claiming success even where there is no reason to believe that any of the consignment seized was likely to be destined for the UK."
Mr Burrowes added: "I think that the National Audit Office should audit Soca's seizure figures at the 18 months mark to see if they are accurate." Mr Burrowes said he would be raising the issue in Parliament. [/FONT]