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Fuel-smuggling gangsters may have been behind murder of Maltese investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia

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Italian prosecutors have said there may be links between the murder of investigative journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta last week and an illicit fuel-smuggling network involved in trafficking stolen petrol from Libya into Europe.

Speaking with the Guardian, Sicilian chief prosecutor Carmelo Zuccaro said he could not rule out the possibility that some of those under investigation on suspicion of being part of the alleged fuel-smuggling ring may have played a part in causing Caruana Galizia’s death.

The journalist, who investigated alleged corruption on the island linked to last year’s Panama Papers revelations, was killed last Monday when a car she was driving was destroyed by a powerful bomb blast close to her home near the town of Mosta.

Following her death, the Maltese government offered a €1 million ($1.16 million) reward and state protection for anybody who came forward with information on who killed her, despite the fact that her work had focussed on alleged corruption committed by senior political figures in the country.

Zuccaro said that Caruana Galizia had worked on a number of articles that exposed the illegal trafficking of stolen fuel from Libya to Malta, and that some of the suspects he was investigating had been mentioned in her work.

Days after Caruana Galizia was killed, Italian police arrested a number of people suspected of being members of a gang that smuggled low-quality diesel worth an estimated €30 million from Libya into Europe.

A Libyan criminal nicknamed the “boss” with links to the Sicilian mafia is said to have used small boats to steal fuel from a refinery close to Tripoli, before smuggling it to the Italian port of Augusta in Sicily.

One of the nine men arrested in connection with the plot was former Maltese professional footballer Darren Debono, who was held by police on the Italian island of Lampedusa.

Gordon Debono, another Maltese national suspected of having been a member of the illicit fuel-smuggling syndicate, was also arrested by Italian police at Catania airport last Wednesday.

Italian news agency Rainews24 has noted that Caruana Galizia mentioned Darren Debono in two blogs posts in 2016.

Italy has called on Malta to step up its efforts to combat serious and organised crime in the wake of Caruana Galizia’s death.

Addressing reporters yesterday, the chief of Italy’s anti-mafia parliamentary commission said the journalist’s killing should be used as an opportunity to reform Maltese legislation that allows organised crime to spread.

“The fact that they hit a woman who did investigative journalism is proof that sometimes they’re more afraid of a pen than a pistol,” Rosy Bindi said.

“We believe this is an extraordinary opportunity to come to grips with how dangerous this criminal phenomenon is, where they kill people when they are prevented from doing business and making money.”

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Italian police arrest 23 suspects and recover 10,000 cultural items in archaeological trafficking crackdown

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A major international police operation led by investigators in Italy has resulted in the recovery 10,000 stolen cultural items and the arrest of 23 suspected antiquities smugglers.

Operation Achei was led by the Italian national police force’s Department for the Protection of Cultural Heritage.

The initiative involved input from several other agencies, including Europol and law enforcement organisations from a number of other countries, namely the UK, Germany and Serbia.

Police in Italy started a probe into the gang’s activities back in 2017 while investigating the looting of archaeological sites in Calabria, southern Italy, where valuable cultural items from the Greek and Roman period were being stolen.

Members of the gang are said to have used bulldozers and metal detectors to locate the items they stole, before selling them on to to a network of buyers across Europe.

Investigators discovered the smuggling network was being run by an organised crime group headed up by a pair of Italian nationals living in the province of Crotone.

The two ringleaders led a network of looters, fences, intermediaries and mules who operated from various locations across Italy, as well as key facilitators working in locations such as Djion, Munich, London and Vršac.

Detectives in Italy said they believe the gang was involved in the illicit trafficking of antique items including vases, jewellery and jars that dated back as far as the 4th century BC.

As well as the arrest of the 23 suspects, the operation also led to a further 80 individuals from the UK, France, Germany and Serbia being placed under investigation.

In a statement, Europol said: “The damage caused to the Italian cultural heritage by this criminal group is very significant as it the criminals were looting archaeological sites for many years.

“Europol Analysis Project FURTUM supported the investigation by coordinating the information exchange, holding several operational meetings, preparing the action day and providing on-the-spot analytical support in Italy to cross-check operational information against Europol’s databases.

“Eurojust supported the execution of the European Investigation Orders and arranged a coordination centre to follow the action in real-time.”

Back in July, a major operation run by Europol and Interpol targeting the trafficking of cultural artefacts involving customs and police officers from 29 countries resulted in the recovery of 18,000 items and the arrest of 59 suspects.

Operation Pandora III saw investigators carry out inspections and raids at numerous locations across the globe, making 49 arrests and imposing 67 administrative sanctions at auction houses, art galleries, museums and private houses.

 

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London drug dealers jailed after frustrated residents forced police to take action with street art

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More than 20 drug dealers have been sentenced after frustrated residents in two London boroughs forced police to take action against them.

People living in Tower Hamlets and Hackney felt they had no option but to take matters into their own hands after police failed to prevent “brazen drug dealing” in the vicinity of their homes, which they claim resulted in needles and blood being left in residential buildings by addicts.

Teaming up with a group of artists calling themselves the Columbia Road Cartel in September last year, the angry residents launched a campaign that involved fake “drug dealer only” signposts and parking bays signs being put up in areas where dealing was rife.

The signs, which were designed to look as though they were legitimate, carried warnings such as “give way to oncoming drug dealers” and “crack pick-up point”.

Speaking with the BBC, Penny Creed, vice-chair of the Columbia Road Tenants’ and Residents’ Association, said last year: “Eight to 10 users congregate on a street waiting for dealers to come past and buy from their car windows.

“Cars and mopeds are mounting kerbs and driving very erratically.

“One local resident’s stepson was knocked over by a drug dealer.

“Users are also accessing some of the residential blocks to use in stairwells, where they often leave needles or even blood.”

Now, the England and Wales Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced that 23 drug dealers from the area have been prosecuted as a result of the campaign.

Over the last week, those involved in the fourth and final prosecution of drug dealers from the area were sentenced at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

Julian Haynes, 33, was jailed for four years after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs, while Brendan Vickers, 26, was handed a three-year sentence after admitting conspiracy to supply class A drugs and two counts of possessing a controlled class A drug with intent.

Jonathan Shepherd, from the CPS, said: “Dealing drugs such as heroin can have devastating consequences for vulnerable people and local communities.

“These defendants showed little consideration for those around them – often openly dealing drugs in the day in front of young children and encouraging aggressive drug users to loiter in the area.

“The different phone lines represented a coordinated effort between various drugs operations to work together to deal dangerous drugs, in effect blighting the local community to such an extent that they felt they had to take action.”

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Florida police arrest 104 in sex trafficking crackdown, including suspects who attempted to buy girl aged 13

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Florida police arrest 104 in sex trafficking crackdown

Police in Florida have arrested more than 100 people over the course of a five-month crackdown on sex trafficking.

During Operation Trade Secrets II, which began in June, investigators from Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office detained a total of 104 people.

Seventy-six of these were men arrested on suspicion of attempting to pay for sexual services, while 28 were women held on suspicion of working in the sex trade.

The first Operation Trade Secrets initiative, which ran from January until June this year, resulted in the detention of 85 people.

As well as focussing on websites and forums known for offering the sale of sexual services, officers taking part in the latest iteration of the operation also turned their attention to strip clubs, massage parlours and motels throughout the county.

In addition, female officers took to the streets to pose as prostitutes in order to catch those looking to pay for sexual services.

Sheriff Chad Chronister used a statement on his office’s website to highlight what he described as two of the “more despicable” cases the force encountered while conducting the operation.

These involved two men, Jason Fitzgerald, 36, and Luis Colon, 29, meeting separately with an undercover detective posing as the stepfather of a 13-year-old girl he was apparently willing to sell for sex.

“Fitzgerald and Colon showed up at a trailer park in North Tampa. They began negotiating a price for sex with the child, and when they were told they could take their pick, having sex with a 14-year-old girl or a 13-year-old girl inside one of the trailers, they jumped at the chance to be with the even younger girl,” said Chronister.

“Predators like this do not belong on the streets of Hillsborough County.”

Both men were arrested and charged with human trafficking for commercial sexual activity, traveling to meet a minor to solicit certain illegal acts and unlawful use of a two-way communications device.

Earlier this month, a coalition of organisations in Miami launched a new outdoor advertising campaign across the city to raise awareness of sex trafficking ahead of the upcoming Super Bowl in February.

The campaign aims to raise awareness of sex trafficking involving the exploitation of children as young as 12 in posters displayed on billboards, at train stations elsewhere.

Miami Super Bowl Host Committee Chairman Rodney Barreto said: “Earlier this year we launched our Stop Sex Trafficking Campaign – an unprecedented effort involving local, state and federal agencies, as well as a significant number of other partners who have come together to combat sex trafficking with new tools and zero tolerance.”

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