23 boxes pile up on the customs officers’ table. Hans-Jürgen Schmidt, spokesman for the customs investigation in Frankfurt am Main, cuts one of the packages in two with his Stanley knife and pulls out small bottles and tablets. 27,000 ampoules and 250,000 tablets of anabolic steroids will be counted by the customs investigators. The hot cargo came to Germany in an airplane from India. Customs intercepted it at Frankfurt airport at the end of March. If the customs officers hadn’t discovered the doping substances, they would probably be circulating in German fitness centres by now.
Hardly any other illegal substance promises smugglers and criminals such high margins as doping drug trafficking. The profit margin can be up to one hundred times the money invested in production and smuggling. Even classic drug trafficking does not offer criminals such high profit opportunities. Added to this is the enormous demand for illegal doping substances. In the bodybuilder or cycling scene and also among amateurs, anabolic steroids & Co. are sold like hot cakes.
A Dangerous Trend
The annual customs balance presented on Tuesday confirms this dangerous trend. The amount of doping substances seized increased in 2017. Customs seized 750,000 corresponding tablets in 2017 and 440,000 in 2016. The number of investigations into doping has declined slightly. In 2017, for example, Customs Investigation initiated around 1000 investigations into drug and doping crime. In 2016 the figure was still around 1200, but the slight decline is mainly due to the new tactics of customs. Instead of concentrating on a large number of small cases, customs is concentrating on investigating larger cases and trying to get to the people behind them.
How anabolic drug dealers work
Customs investigators in Frankfurt am Main are sounding the alarm: every year the authorities seize hundreds of thousands of tablets of doping substances. The lucrative business for the perpetrators is extremely dangerous for consumers.
With such attacks and success reports, the troop of Finance Minister Olaf Scholz also counteracts criticism of their operational capability. Too few personnel and too many tasks would weaken the troops of the Minister of Finance operationally, according to recent media reports. But the customs action against smuggling anabolic steroids shows how important customs activities are, especially in niche areas. Since the raw materials for the production of doping substances mostly come from abroad, the fight against illegal doping substances falls within the competence of customs. Smuggling these substances is particularly dangerous because the physical consequences of using anabolic steroids are disastrous and the products are usually sold heavily contaminated.
A Difficult Fight
What makes the fight against anabolic steroids so difficult for civil servants is the wide range of these products on offer. In contrast to classic drugs, those interested do not have to hang around in dingy street corners or darknets. Even a simple Internet search makes it child’s play to order doping drugs by post.
For example, a group of suspected doping dealers from Offenbach allegedly operated their own website through which they traded doping substances. Customs became aware of the collective after it seized a postal item at the International Postal Centre in Niederaula, Hesse, about a year ago. This was a shipment from China containing more than one kilogram of testosterone – the basic substance for the production of doping substances. Instead of withdrawing the parcel from circulation, the customs authorities kept an eye on the recipient for months. The investigators call this procedure Controlled Delivery.
A few weeks ago, customs struck and searched more than a dozen apartments in Offenbach, Dietzenbach and Wuppertal. Customs seized thousands of ampoules and tablets. Customs investigated seven defendants aged 27 to 43. The main accused, a 31-year-old Portuguese, is even said to have run an underground doping laboratory in Offenbach.
Underground Labs Serving the Underground
Hans-Jürgen Schmidt of the Frankfurt Customs Investigation Department has already seen many of these underground laboratories for doping substances. Next to the boxes containing the illegal doping substances are the utensils of a drug laboratory that the customs officers have dug up near Giessen.
“The means of production are by no means sterile. The doping substances from such underground laboratories are usually heavily contaminated and unhygienic,” warns Schmidt.
The contamination of the products is still the least danger to consumers. Because the side effects of anabolic steroids & co. are far-reaching. In addition to cardiovascular disturbances, organs such as the liver can be permanently damaged. In addition, consumers are also threatened with psychological damage, which can lead to self-damage.