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IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Tony Verachtert


Tony Verachtert
Transnational Crime Project Officer

We try to think ahead’

Innovative, multidisciplinary, effective and evidence-based: the four keywords that Tony Verachtert, Transnational Crime Project Officer, uses to describe the work of the Pompidou Group. ‘We can’t make drugs policy in the member states, but we can highlight problems and propose potential solutions.


The Pompidou Group, part of the Council of Europe, strives to ensure that the drugs policy in the member states is based on scientific evidence, practical experience and successful examples from other countries. It works in a range of areas, including prevention, treatment, research, the prison system and illegal trafficking. Verachtert focuses mainly on smuggling through airports, online trafficking and precursors – the basic ingredients used to manufacture drugs.


Officially, Verachtert is a chief superintendent with the Belgian Federal Police, but he is currently seconded full-time to the Pompidou Group. He used to be head of the Criminal Police at Zaventem airport. His good contacts with the police and customs made him a perfect choice for the Pompidou Group. ‘We want to bring together people from science, industry, healthcare, politics, government, the judicial authorities, the police and customs,’ Verachtert explains. ‘My job is to expand this network, and it’s going pretty well.’ The Pompidou Group regularly organises meetings where members of the network can exchange knowledge and share their experiences.


Verachtert is only too aware that, in a world where new drugs are constantly coming onto the market, it is difficult not to be repeatedly overtaken by events. ‘This means, for example, that we have to look for quick and innovative ways of getting new drugs onto the international list of banned substances. We constantly lobby for this. On the other hand, we also try to think ahead. For example, we recently had an agenda item at one of our meetings about the possibility of using yeast to make drugs. It’s good to realise at this point what the possible implications might be.’ The Pompidou Group also anticipates problems if air passengers are able to print their own luggage labels at home in the future. ‘That’s just playing into the hands of drug traffickers. So we need to put our heads together and come up with a labelling system that makes it as difficult as possible for criminals to transport drugs in airline baggage.’


Delivery services
Another problem Verachtert is currently concerned with is drug trafficking via the darknet, which allows criminals to trade all kinds of good using anonimisation systems. Not so long ago the FBI closed down Silk Road, a kind of eBay for the sale of drugs and other illegal goods and services. The drugs were delivered to customers at home, all nicely packaged up. Verachtert says that it is becoming increasingly difficult to bring down websites like this. ‘Technology moves so fast that it is almost impossible to prevent illegal trafficking. So we have to look for other ways – and that brings us to the delivery service. If we can’t prevent drugs being ordered online, we can see if we can stop them being delivered.’


Verachtert regards the Pompidou Group as a cross between an advisory body and a thinktank. ‘We are constantly in search of innovations, novelties, for both the problems ahead and ways of tackling them. We not only collaborate with 38 of the 47 countries in the Council of Europe, but also with other countries, including Mexico, the United States, Australia and Canada. MedNET, the Mediterranean network with lots of members in North Africa, is also an important partner. Drugs problems exist everywhere, illegal trafficking is a worldwide phenomenon, so we have to collaborate on a global scale.’


ERANID is also an important partner for the Pompidou Group, Verachtert says. ‘We want policy in our member states to be based on evidence, and that takes a lot of research. ERANID is important for this research, particularly because it looks beyond national borders. We can use the knowledge from research funded by ERANID in our work. Scientists we invite to our meetings are often involved with ERANID in some way or other. To be able to use knowledge, we first have to share it, and that is precisely what we are for. It is then up to the member states to decide whether they use our recommendations in policy.’