Top Pago official rejects drug claims

A senior American Samoa government official has rejected claims from Samoa that most of the hard drugs found in Samoa are brought in from the territory.

American Samoa’s Chief of Customs, Keith Gebauer, told the Weekend Observer, that by Samoa pointing the finger to them, this is not productive or effective.

He said the two Samoas need to work as a team to tackle the issue of drugs.

He was responding to comments by the Minister of Revenue, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, who was quoted by the local media that drug smugglers were sailing on fishing boats to American Samoa and bringing back the drugs such as methamphetamine.

"Anyone can jump on a fishing alia, shoot off to American Samoa, collect the stuff and land back here as if they've been out fishing," Tialavea was quoted as saying.

The Minister said Samoan border control was working to the best of its abilities but more sniffer dogs were required for it to be successful.

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But Mr. Gebauer told the Samoa Observer the flow and exchange of drugs and cash between the two Samoas is an ever-growing threat to both countries and the Pacific region at large.  

“We would all be better served working collaboratively towards this common threat to our communities by sharing critical information and leveraging our limited resources collectively when possible,” he said. 

Asked what the American Samoa government is doing to combat the flow of drugs from their territory to Samoa, he said: 

“It would be inappropriate to discuss any specifics of our current operations, in terms of, methods and procedures for safety and investigation purposes. 

“We are constantly, evaluating our operation and making adjustments as needed. 

“Our areas of focus vary based on intelligence gathered, patterns of concealment and other factors,” said Gebauer. 

Furthermore the Customs Chief Executive said the Customs Division of the Department of Treasury would welcome the opportunity to work with the Samoa Customs on ways to combat the illegal drug trade.

“Perhaps, the annual Pacific Island Chiefs of Police conference hosted by the American Samoa Department of Public Safety and Commissioner Le’i Thompson will provide a platform to share and discuss solutions between law enforcement, border security professionals and other stakeholders on the challenges we all currently face today.

“The Customs Division of the Department of Treasury stands ready to assist the Samoa Customs Ministry in any way possible.” 

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