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North Korea using illicit tobacco to fund nuclear ambitions

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Illicit tobacco is helping the North Korean regime fund its nuclear weapons programme, an expert has warned.

As well as profiting from fake currency, drugs and goods made using slave labour, Kim Jong-un’s government is fuelling its nuclear ambitions with an underground trade in illegal tobacco, according to US security chief David Luna.

Luna, the outgoing chairman of the OECD Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade, claims the illicit tobacco trade is an attractive source of income for Pyongyang as it is seen as “low-risk, high reward”, and allows the regime to rake in tens of billions in US dollars by illegally selling smoking products without charging the high levels of tax that are levied in wealthy countries.

According to Luna, a shipping container full of tobacco can be obtained for as little as $100,000, and then resold illicitly avoiding tax for as much as $2 million.

Criminal penalties for those caught participating in the illicit trade are far less severe than the long prison terms often handed to down to drug traffickers or people smugglers.

In an article published by Gulf News, Luna writes: “We must accelerate cross-border intelligence-led policing to disrupt and dismantle the illicit trafficking networks that are fuelling today’s global insecurity, and confiscate their criminally derived profits from illegal tobacco and other illicit commodities.

“By smartly targeting the illicit activities of North Korea, and other threat networks, we can curtail the financing that enables these criminal regimes to exist, better safeguard our security and world order, and help to win the peace.”

Separately, a recent report from the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime noted that North Korea has recently been becoming increasingly involved in the illegal trafficking of animals out of African nations.

The study revealed that 18 out of 31 diplomats arrested for smuggling ivory and rhino horn out of African countries over the past 30 years have been from North Korea.

“I find it very hard to believe that they are operating completely alone, that they are not being sanctioned by some way by the regime or at or at least by their superiors,” researcher Julian Rademeyer said.

“North Korean embassies by their nature are very strictly controlled. People cannot move very easily and freely.”

With gross domestic product smaller than some US cities, thanks in part to a strict regime of sanctions put in place against it by the international community, North Korea has increasingly been forced to turn to illicit trade not only to support its nuclear weapons programme, but also to prop up its despotic regime.

As is often the case when draconian sanctions are imposed on rogue states, it is mostly the people of North Korea who suffer from embargoes affecting the country rather than its elites.

Like terrorist groups including Daesh, al-Qa’ida and Hezbollah, Pyongyang has been profiting from illegal trade for many years.

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Pair of drug traffickers handed 33 years behind bars for attempting to smuggle cocaine worth £60 million into UK

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pair of drug traffickers handed 33 years

Two men who were caught attempting to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated £60 million ($78.33 million) into the UK after shipping it from on a yacht from South America have been jailed for a total of 33 years.

Officers from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), which is often referred to as Britain’s equivalent of the FBI, identified that the vessel on which Scott Kilgour and Gary Swift were travelling was carrying a large cocaine shipment in August last year.

After working in close cooperation with their colleagues in Spain, NCA investigators boarded the boat off the coast of Wales and arrested Swift, 53, and Kilgour, 41, who were both from Liverpool.

After bringing the boat to shore, specialist officers conducted a forensic search of the vessel, finding 751lgs of cocaine.

Tests later proved that the drugs were 83% pure, giving the haul a wholesale value of some £24 million and a potential street value of £60 million once mixed with cutting agents.

Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine at Swansea Crown Court in September of last year.

Today, Swift was handed a 19-and-a-half-year jail term, while Kilgour was sentenced to 13-and-a-half years.

The court was told that the men set off from the Canary Islands to collect the huge cocaine shipment from Suriname on the north-east coast of South America in June 2019, and were intercepted on 27 August after police put their vessel under surveillance.

When law enforcement officers boarded the boat, Swift told them: “I just want to say that I am guilty. I have got something substantial on the boat and they will find it.”

Speaking after sentencing, Jayne Lloyd, NCA Regional Head of Investigations, commented: “Today’s result shows what will happen if you try to flood our streets with millions of pounds worth of potentially deadly drugs – you will be caught and you will face the consequences.

“Drugs aren’t just damaging to the people that take them, they fuel violence and exploitation, damaging communities and leaving destruction in their wake.

“It’s thanks to the work of the NCA, Border Force officers, and the Spanish National Police, that two highly organised criminals are behind bars and that these drugs haven’t made their way onto the streets.”

Deputy Director Steve Whitton, from Border Force’s Maritime Command, said: “The work of the crew of HMC Protector, as well as our specialist deep rummage search officers, played a crucial role in this case.

“Their work was a key part of an investigation which has ultimately put two significant drug smugglers behind bars.”

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Californian regulators want to force legal cannabis stores to display QR codes containing licence info

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Californian regulators want to force legal cannabis stores to display QR codes

Regulators in the US state of California want licensed cannabis sellers to display QR codes that verify their legal status in a bid to help crack down on the illicit vaping products that are thought to have been behind an outbreak of lung injuries across America.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control proposed new emergency legislation that would compel authorised cannabis traders to display QR codes containing information about their licensing status in their store windows, and to carry such codes while transporting or delivering the drug.

The proposed new rules are intended to help consumers confirm they are buying from reputable and fully licensed sources, and aid regulators and law enforcement agents as they attempt to guarantee safety levels in the legal cannabis market.

It is also hoped that the proposed new regulations would help educate cannabis buyers about the importance of purchasing supplies from licensed and regulated sources, and the dangers of buying bootleg products from traders that have not received approval from local authorities.

After scanning the codes using a smart device, cannabis buyers would be sent to the Bureau’s Online Licence Search, where they would be able to access information relating to the trader’s licence status, as well as details about a trader’s location so as buyers can be confident a retailer is not displaying counterfeit credentials.

Commenting on the proposed new rules, Bureau chief Lori Ajax said: “The proposed regulations will help consumers avoid purchasing cannabis goods from unlicensed businesses by providing a simple way to confirm licensure immediately before entering the premises or receiving a delivery.

“These requirements will also assist law enforcement in distinguishing between legal and illegal transportation of cannabis goods.”

In September last year, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said a major outbreak of serious lung injury among users of vaping products had been linked to counterfeit THC products.

After conducting interviews about ecigarette use with 86 patients in Illinois and Wisconsin who had suffered lung injuries, the agency found that 87% had used THC-containing vaping products, the majority of which were prefilled cartridges that had been obtained from informal sources.

In an update issued earlier this month, the CDC revealed that as of 14 January, it had received reports of a total of 2,668 cases or deaths linked to the use of vaping products from all 50 states.

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Australian tax authorities seize and destroy illicit tobacco crop with estimated excise value of A$34.5 million

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illicit tobacco crop with estimated excise value of A$34.5 million

Tax authorities in Australia have confiscated and destroyed more than 26 tonnes of illicit tobacco that would have deprived the country’s government of an estimated A$34.5 million ($23. 55 million) in tax had it been sold on the black market.

The seizure was made after agents from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) carried out raids at illicit tobacco farms across at five sites in New South Wales (NSW).

Acting on intelligence and in cooperation with officers from NSW Police, ATO investigators discovered 50 acres of illicit tobacco crops, of which 30 acres contained mature plants almost ready for harvesting, and a further 20 acres that recently plated crops.

The ATO said no arrests had been made in connection with the illicit tobacco, but added that the operation resulted in the identification of two men who were in Australia illegally.

Police are continuing to investigate the discovery of the crops, as well as the alleged illegal removal of water from the Hastings River as part of the cultivation process.

Commenting on the seizure, ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read said: “The trade in illicit tobacco products in Australia has widespread negative consequences across the community. Tobacco growing operations are not run by small producers or farmers.

“They are run by organised criminal syndicates who deliberately engage in illegal activities.

“Involvement in illicit tobacco production is a serious offence. This type of activity takes vital money away from the community and places it directly into the hands of organised crime syndicate.”

In September of last year, 9News reported that the market for smuggled, illicit and counterfeit cigarettes exploded across the country in 2019, with Australian Border Force officers seizing more than 300 tonnes of smuggled contraband tobacco.

That figure was more than three times higher than the amount seized in 2017.

“We’re talking about large criminal entities interested in making money off the tobacco industry,” Western Australia Border Force Commander Rod O’Donnell commented.

“There’s money to be made if you can get the products in and sold into the black-market economy.”

Last month, Australian police arrested a man in connection with a plot to smuggle tobacco products with an estimated excise value of A$24 million into the country.

Officers from Australia’s Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) detained the man at Melbourne Airport before he was later charged with five offences under the Customs Act 1901.

Prosecutors claimed the man was involved in a plot to smuggle almost 16 tonnes of loose-leaf tobacco and over 20 million cigarettes into Australia.

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