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African victims of modern slavery rescued in Interpol-backed operation

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Armed conflict and terrorism behind increase in trafficking

An operation coordinated by international police organisation Interpol aimed at strengthening border controls in West Africa has resulted in the rescue of nearly 40 victims of modern slavery.

The majority of those identified as having been trafficked for the purposes of forced labour were children, who were being taken to work in illicit gold mines in Guinea, Interpol said.

Adults who had paid people smugglers to get them to Europe via Libya were also among those rescued.

The eight-day Operation Adwenpa III, which took place in October, was supported by more than 100 officers at 23 sites across key land border and airports in eight countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo.

As well as resulting in the discovery and rescue of human trafficking victims, the operation also saw law enforcement officers seize 300kgs of counterfeit pharmaceutical drugs at Abidjan airport.

The seizure led to the search of a house that was used as a warehouse and packaging site for other counterfeit medicines, and the arrest of six people.

Harold O’Connell, Director of Interpol’s Capacity Building and Training Unit, commented: “The operation shows the range of activities in which organised crime is involved.

“In addition to helping protect communities, these interventions are part of a longer term solution where information sharing and cross-border cooperation between various law enforcement agencies is essential.”

Last year, the operation resulted in the arrest of human traffickers and migrant smugglers, along with the seizure of counterfeit goods, a large amount of cash, drugs and a number of stolen vehicles.

As well as apprehending organised criminals, Operation Adwenpa, which is funded by the German government, is also intended to provide training on how to strengthen border control to local law enforcement officials from various agencies.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, West Africa is vulnerable to organised crime, people trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism due to its geographic location, poorly-controlled borders and long coastline.

In recent years, the problem has been exacerbated by the high number of economic migrants seeking to leave the region for Europe, many of whom pay people smuggling gangs to facilitate their journeys.

A recent investigation conducted by CNN found that trafficking gangs are auctioning off migrants in Libya, many of whom have travelled from West Africa, for as little as $400.

The broadcaster obtained mobile phone footage showing two African men being sold off to work on farms.

People smugglers have resorted to selling their human cargo in the North African country after European authorities launched a crackdown on migrant boats attempting to cross the Mediterranean, sending many back to the beaches from which they came.

Speaking after visiting Libya, Mohammed Abdiker, International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Director of Operation and Emergencies, said: “The situation is dire. The more IOM engages inside Libya, the more we learn that it is a vale of tears for many migrants.

“Some reports are truly horrifying and the latest reports of ‘slave markets’ for migrants can be added to a long list of outrages.”

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EU gets new powers to hit international cyber hackers with sanctions

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hit international cyber hackers with sanctions

The EU is now able to hit international cyber criminals who pose a threat to member states with targeted sanctions as part of efforts to restrict hackers’ ability to knock out key infrastructure.

A new legal mechanism agreed this morning by the European Council can be used to target hackers regardless of where in the world they are based.

It provides the EU with the power to freeze assets held by such offenders in member states, and to prevent them from entering the 28-nation bloc.

The new framework can also be used to target any individuals who provide “financial, technical or material support for such attacks or who are involved in other ways”, the Council said in a statement issued this morning.

The new measures were signed off today in Brussels after the Netherlands and the UK lobbied for greater powers for members states to take swifter action against the originators of cyber attacks with the potential to bring down crucial national infrastructure, such as the May 2017 WannaCry ransomware outbreak.

Welcoming the introduction of the new sanctions regime, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt commented: “This is decisive action to deter future cyber-attacks. For too long now, hostile actors have been threatening the EU’s security through disrupting critical infrastructure, attempts to undermine democracy and stealing commercial secrets and money running to billions of euros.

“We must now look to impose travel bans and asset freezes against those we know have been responsible for this.”

The new powers were passed into EU law after it was reported that an international coalition of law enforcement agencies had broken up a cyber crime network that used malware in an attempt to steal $100 million from more than 41,000 victims.

Members of the gang, which was made up of hackers who advertised their skills on internet forums, are said to have used the GozNym malware to gain access to victims’ online banking login credentials, before using these to gain unauthorised access to their online accounts to drain them of money.

The funds that were stolen would then be laundered using US and foreign beneficiary bank accounts controlled by gang members.

A criminal indictment has now been returned by a US federal grand jury in Pittsburgh charging 10 members of the network with a number of cyber crime-related offences.

US Attorney Scott Brady commented: “The collaborative and simultaneous prosecution of the members of the GozNym criminal conspiracy in four countries represents a paradigm shift in how we investigate and prosecute cyber crime.

“Cyber crime victimises people all over the world. This prosecution represents an international cooperative effort to bring cyber criminals to justice.”

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German and Italian police break up gang behind fake extra virgin olive oil conspiracy

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fake extra virgin olive oil

An international operation coordinated by Europol has resulted in the dismantling of an organised criminal network behind the fraudulent sale of huge quantities of counterfeit extra virgin olive oil in Germany and Italy.

The operation that targeted the gang, which involved police investigators, from both countries, resulted in the arrest of 20 suspected gang members, as well as the seizure of 150,000 litres of fake extra virgin olive oil.

Members of the gang are said to have sourced wholesale quantities of sunflower oil in Italy, which they then adulterated with chlorophyll, beta-carotene and soya oil in a bid to make it appear as though it was extra virgin olive oil.

Once this process was completed in what Europol described as “unsanitary conditions”, the resultant bogus oil was transported by lorry to Germany, where it was stored by logistics firms before being fraudulently sold onto restaurant owners across the country.

Based on evidence that indicates the network purchased around one million litres of sunflower oil a year, it is estimated that the gang made some €8 million ($8.96 million) annually by selling their counterfeit product for as much as €10 per litre.

Investigators participating in the operation conducted raids at 20 properties in multiple locations, and impounded five lorries that were intercepted while carrying 23,000 litres of counterfeit oil each.

In a statement, Europol said: “This operation, supported by Europol and Eurojust, was carried out within the framework of the international Operation Opson, focused on combating counterfeit and substandard food and beverage products on the market in Europe and beyond.

“Europol supported this case since the beginning by holding an operational meeting at its headquarters in The Hague.”

Operation Opson, which has been run by a coalition of law enforcement agencies including Europol and Interpol since 2011, has resulted in the seizure of many thousands of tonnes of fake and adulterated food and drink, as well as the arrest of scores of suspected members of criminal food fraud gangs.

During the most recent Operation Opson investigation, which took place between December 2017 and March 2018, law enforcement agencies from a record 67 countries removed 3,620 tonnes of substandard and dangerous food from international supply chains, and broke up almost 50 organised crime networks said to have been involved in the illegal trade in counterfeit food and drink.

Speaking in April last year, Jari Liukku, Head of Europol’s European Serious and Organised Crime Centre, said: “[Food fraud] is a threat which requires… cooperation across borders, taking into account the increased integration and globalisation of supply chains.”

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UK’s FBI needs extra £2.7 billion to tackle more than 181,000 serious and organised offenders

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181,000 serious and organised offenders

In the latest edition of its annual National Strategic Assessment, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned that there are at least 181,000 offenders linked to serious and organised crime operating in Britain, which is more than twice the number of soldiers currently serving in the British Army.

Launching the assessment, which was published this morning, NCA Director General Lynne Owens said the UK Government must provide an additional £2.7 billion ($3.5 billion) to tackle the growth in serious and organised crime, which she said is causing “staggering” damage to Britain.

She said this would work out to an additional £650 million in annual funding over the next three years; an amount equivalent to less than the weekly cost of serious and organised crime to Britain.

Speaking at the weekend ahead of the release of the assessment, Owens told reporters that serious and organised crime is responsible for more deaths every year in the UK than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined.

The assessment reveals that more than 144,000 paedophiles are accessing child sex abuse images through the dark web in Britain, while the number of county lines drug supply lines has increased from 720 to around 2,000 in little over a year.

Elsewhere, the report found that financial losses from fraud increased by 32% between April and September 2018 in the UK, and that there were 3.6 million incidents of fraud reported in England and Wales last year.

According to the report, organised immigration crime gangs from China and Vietnam have ramped up their activities in Britain over the course of the past year, while the number of human trafficking and modern slavery victims identified in the UK has risen sharply.

The NCA, which is often referred to as the UK’s equivalent of the FBI, notes in its assessment that new and emerging technologies such as the dark web, cryptocurrencies and encrypted messaging apps are helping serious and organised criminals commit a range of offences from anywhere in the world, including drug distribution, money laundering, the sharing of indecent images of children, and the hacking of national infrastructure.

“Visible, frontline policing is vital to public safety, but the reality is that we will not defeat serious and organised crime with beat officers alone,” Owens said.

“Some of the capabilities we need are most effectively and efficiently delivered at the local or regional level. The NCA must deliver others on a national basis, providing the right agencies with the right capabilities at the right time to deliver maximum impact.

“The choice is stark. Failing to invest will result in the gradual erosion of our capabilities and our ability to protect the public.”

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