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Controlled delivery


Article 2(i) of the Organized Crime Convention describes controlled delivery as the technique for allowing suspicious shipments or cargo to leave, pass through or enter a jurisdiction with the knowledge and supervision of authorities. Already the UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988) recommended the use of controlled delivery to combat trafficking in drugs.

Controlled delivery in the Organized Crime Convention

"Controlled delivery" shall mean the technique of allowing illicit or suspect consignments to pass out of, through or into the territory of one or more States, with the knowledge and under the supervision of their competent authorities, with a view to the investigation of an offence and the identification of persons involved in the commission of the offence.

Controlled deliveries are used, among others, to trace the flow of illicit goods such as drugs, wildlife specimen, counterfeit products or falsified medical products, in order to determine their true sources, transit routes and destination. Controlled deliveries enable the mapping of complete criminal schemes as well as structures of organized criminal groups for the purpose of prosecution. Without controlled deliveries, it is often difficult to know or prove the actual roles played by members of organized criminal groups (CITES, 2011).

Some key questions for controlled deliveries include the following (UNODC, 2016):

  • Do national legislation or regulations allow for the substituting (in whole or in part) of detected contraband before an actual controlled delivery is conducted? If yes, can such records be accepted for the purpose of evidence in court?
  • Which agency takes the lead with regard to controlled deliveries?
  • What are the preconditions for the use of controlled delivery?
  • Is authorization from a judicial or other independent source required?
  • What are the limits and conditions for controlled delivery orders?
  • Have standard operating procedures been developed to support swift and efficient controlled deliveries?

Controlled delivery is used as an investigative technique by many countries, although with different conditions and for different categories of crime (UNODC, 2013). It is used in investigating transnational organized crime cases, due to the recognition that understanding the size, shape, and scope of organized criminal activity, structures and roles played in organized criminal groups is necessary if they are to be dismantled.

Controlled delivery is an investigative tool that helps to accomplish this objective, particularly in cases where illicit products trafficking is identified or intercepted in source or transit and then delivered under surveillance in order to identify the intended recipients. It is also used to monitor and gather evidence on subsequent distribution within an organized criminal group or in the illegal supply chain.In some cases, it is possible to substitute the illicit consignments with licit or fake material in order to prevent the risk of losing the illicit consignments during the course of delivery.

Nonetheless, there are particular offences such as trafficking in persons for which the use of controlled deliveries is problematic. When information exists that a human trafficking operation involves the movement of victims, law enforcement is usually required to prioritize the safeguarding of victims over keeping perpetrators under surveillance. The objective is to obtain intelligence and information about all those involved in the trafficking operation from those who recruit to those responsible for the transportation and exploitation, without jeopardizing the victim's security. Therefore, careful risk assessment needs to be conducted prior to using the controlled delivery technique. 


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