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

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illicit fuel-smuggling network

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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Gibraltar and Japan Tobacco International agree to tackle smuggling of firm’s cigarette and rolling tobacco brands

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Gibraltar and Japan Tobacco International agree to tackle smuggling

Officials in Gibraltar and UK customs authorities have teamed up with Japan Tobacco International (JTI) to protect the legitimate trade in tobacco products and foster a stable and transparent tobacco market in the British overseas territory.

The aim of the new partnership, which was agreed during the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Friday, is to prevent smugglers from trafficking JTI brand tobacco problems into Spain via Gibraltar.

The agreement will see the signees work to improve information and intelligence sharing, and result in customs workers based in Gibraltar receiving training on how to tell the difference between authentic and counterfeit tobacco products.

One of the largest importers and producers of tobacco in Europe, JTI owns numerous high-profile brands that are routinely targeted by smugglers, including Winston, Camel, Silk Cut, Benson and Hedges, American Spirit and Old Holborn.

The MoU was signed during a ceremony at Gibraltar International Airport in the presence of Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo, Collector of Customs of HM Customs Gibraltar John Rodríguez, and Tom Osborne, JTI Iberia General Manager.

Members of the Anti-Illicit Trade Department of JTI were also in attendance.

Picardo commented: “We welcome the signing of this MoU with JTI as we are committed to working in partnership with the tobacco manufacturers to eradicate illicit trade in tobacco products. Illicit trade fosters further criminality across frontiers, unsociable behaviour and harms legitimate business.

“We continually review our procedures and legislation to ensure proper compliance with our laws and conditions of tobacco licences by all local entities involved in the tobacco business.”

Speaking as the agreement was signed, Osborne said it is vital that the tobacco industry works with world governments to prevent the counterfeiting and smuggling of its products, noting that the illicit trade in cigarettes and rolling tobacco is an issue that “impacts tax collection, the stability of the market and promotes disrespect for the law and disrupts public security”.

Last week, UK tobacco industry trade body the TMA published the results of a poll that showed the illicit trade in tobacco products “remains resilient” in Britain.

The survey, for which 12,000 adult smokers were questioned, revealed that more than three-quarters (76%) of respondents had purchased tobacco products over the preceding 12 months on which UK tax had not been paid.

TMA Director Rupert Lewis said: “These survey findings highlight the volume and widespread availability of illicit tobacco throughout the UK and the ‘relaxed’ attitude that many consumers have towards buying and selling illicit tobacco, believing it to be a ‘victimless’ crime.”

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Canadian police smash counterfeit currency network that flooded Surrey with bogus US dollar bills

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Canadian police smash counterfeit currency network

Police in Canada have charged four people with various offences after breaking up a counterfeit currency ring that was circulating counterfeit US bills with a face value of thousands of dollars in the Metro Vancouver area.

The operation that resulted in the suspects’ arrest began at the beginning of January after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) received multiple reports of bogus US bills being passed off to several businesses in the Newton area of Surrey, a city in British Columbia.

The investigation, which was launched after it was established that counterfeit banknotes with a face value of more than $5,000 had been circulated in the region, culminated at the end of last month with a raid on a residential property.

Officers participating in the raid discovered fake US bills with a face value of more than £12,000, an array of weapons and equipment that had been used to print the counterfeit currency.

Kaymen Winter, Tassie Winter, Mitchell Coubrough and Terita Herbert have now been charged with a number of offences, including making counterfeit currency, possession of prohibited weapons, and possession of counterfeit documents.

In a statement, Surrey RCMP Corporal David Amerlinck said: “Counterfeit currency can be particularly harmful to small independent business owners.

“The victims of this type of fraud often find themselves paying out of pocket for the financial losses. It’s affecting their business, but in many cases they are affected personally as well.”

In a separate operation, a coalition of Canadian law enforcement agencies arrested and charged two people in Ontario in connection with various transnational scams, including the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) telephone scam, the Bank Investigator scam and the tech support scam.

The CRA scam involved callers identifying themselves as CRA officials and bullying victims into paying non-existent fines or taxes.

Operating from India, the fraudsters behind the scam are thought to have been actively targeting Canadians since 2014, and are estimated to have conned victims out of more than CA$16.8 million ($12.7 million).

Gurinderpreet Dhaliwal and Inderpreet Dhaliwal have both been charged with fraud and handling the proceeds of crime.

Phone fraudsters commonly target victims while pretending to be calling from government agencies.

Last July, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revealed that complaints to its Consumer Sentinel Network about government imposter scams had reached record levels over the spring

Back in 2016, it was reported that a prospective university student from Shandong province in China had died of a heart attack after she was conned out of her tuition fees in a phone scam.

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Europe’s ‘most wanted’ man extradited back to Romania from UK to face sex trafficking and murder conspiracy charges

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Europe’s ‘most wanted’ man extradited

A man who is thought to be the leader of a major organised crime gang has been extradited from the UK to Romania to face trial, Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said on Friday.

Florin Ghinea, known in the underworld by the nickname Ghenosu, was arrested by NCA officers as he left a gym in Watford back in August 2018 after he disappeared from Romania that May.

Ghinea, 45, was listed at the time as being one of Europol’s most wanted men, and was being sought for questioning by police in Romania in relation to a series of crimes including human trafficking, conspiracy to murder, blackmail and money laundering.

Investigators believe he headed up a sex trafficking ring that involved Romanian women being sent to locations including Dubai, Finland and Ireland.

Ghinea is also said to have conspired to have a criminal rival murdered.

He was flown from London to Bucharest on Wednesday following the conclusion of UK extradition proceedings.

Commenting on Ghinea’s removal from the UK, Head of European Operations for NCA International Dave Hucker said in a statement: “Ghinea was arrested as a result of some excellent joint working between the NCA and Romanian law enforcement.

“His departure is a huge success, and I’ve no doubt our streets are safer as a result.”

Ghinea was placed on the Europol wanted list in May 2018, and promptly disappeared from his home in Dambovita County before Romanian police carried out a raid.

Romanian prosecutors claimed at the time that he was tipped off by a crooked police officer before investigators were able to act.

After being extradited back to his native country this week, Ghinea was taken directly to a court in Bucharest to face charges of sex trafficking, money laundering, complicity in human trafficking, and being a member of an organised criminal gang.

Images posted online by Romanian media last week showed Ghinea being escorted through Bucharest airport by masked police officers.

Speaking after the alleged kingpin was apprehended in the UK back in 2018, NCA Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said his arrest had made UK streets safer.

“Ghinea was being sought by the Romanian authorities for some extremely serious offences, including human trafficking and murder, and was quite rightly regarded as one of Europe’s most wanted,” he said.

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