VILNIUS - Two Somali-born U.K. citizens were arrested in their Vilnius hotel room Nov. 28 after it was discovered they had been attempting to mail 14 kilograms of an exotic herbal narcotic through the Lithuanian post.
The substance in question was Catha Edulis, a plant grown in Ethiopia whose use is part of cultural tradition in Somalia. Its appearance in Europe is relatively new 's it materialized in the 1980s and is used only among certain ethnic groups.
The plant contains psychotropic substances cathine and cathinone. Use of these substances is prohibited in Europe except for in the U.K. and the Netherlands. This was the first instance of its discovery in Lithuania.
Researchers who have studied the drug relate it closely to amphetamines; it is known to reduce the appetite and stimulate the central nervous system. Abuse can lead to a variety of health complications including erosion of the teeth, liver damage, depression, hallucinations, schizophrenia, heart disease and the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
A judge from the Vilnius City Court sentenced one of the men to a 20-day jail term and the other to a 2-month term based on evidence provided to the court.
The Customs Criminal Service (MKT) officials are leading an investigation to learn whether the pair had any more connections to local or international dealers.
The MKT officers first caught onto the operation when they examined three suspicious packages in an international delivery company on Nov. 21. Two of the packages were addressed to locations in the U.S. and the other to Canada. All contained leaves and stalks of Catha Edulis plant. The packages were officially declared Christmas gifts and marked as breakable goods. In order to maintain freshness the narcotics were wrapped in the damp leaves of the same plant. The batch contained 100 packets in total.
Although the investigation is still in progress, the officers told BNS the drug could have been transported from one of a few African countries to the U.K. and then to Lithuania before the men sent it off to the US and Canada.
Adas Eidukevicius, acting head of the International Relations Department of the Customs Criminal Service, said investigators are trying to understand why Lithuania ended up as the center of the drug transport scheme.
"Since it is a rare situation in Lithuania [for this drug to appear] maybe the men thought there was less control and it would be less noticeable," Eidukevicius said.
In the first nine months of this year, four pretrial investigations into drug smuggling and seven pretrial investigations into illegal possession were reported, according to the MKT.