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WHO plan to crackdown on illicit tobacco needs support of more governments

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The World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Protocol to Eliminate the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products still needs the support of six more governments before it can come into force, the agency has said.

The protocol was adopted in November 2012 by parties to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), but to date, only 33 countries and the European Union have signed up to its principles.

For the protocol to become an international treaty, it needs a total of 40 signatories.

The protocol aims to eliminate all forms of the illicit tobacco trade by providing tools to secure the supply chain, including the establishment of an international tracking and tracing system.

It also aims to counter the illicit trade in tobacco through dissuasive law enforcement measures and a range of initiatives designed to enable international cooperation.

If the WHO fails to secure the additional signatories by 2 July next year, 90 days before the start of the eighth session of the FCTC takes place in Geneva, the protocol will have to wait until 2020 to commence a meeting.

In a statement, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Uruguay President  Dr Tabaré Ramón Vázquez said: “If national leaders, health ministers, and finance chiefs ever wondered how far they should go to regulate tobacco products, Big Tobacco’s admissions, together with investors’ second thoughts, have provided an answer: as far as necessary.

“Governments face a moral and legal imperative to use the strongest possible measures to protect their citizens from tobacco.

“One way forward would be for more governments to implement commitments enshrined in the World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The WHO FCTC provides guidelines on topics such as tobacco taxation, public awareness and education, and package warnings. These measures have helped save millions of lives in the last decade, not to mention hundreds of billions of dollars in health costs.”

Last week, the European Commission officially adopted an EU-wide track and trace system designed to ensure that tobacco products are easily traceable in the 28-nation bloc, assigning all of them a unique identifier.

The commission also announced plans to ensure tobacco products meet specific security requirements, with at least five types of authentication elements required per packet.

“Tobacco still remains the biggest avoidable cause of premature death in the EU, and the illicit trade in tobacco facilitates access to cigarettes and other tobacco products, including for children and young adults,” the commission said in a statement.

“In addition, millions of euros in tax revenues are lost every year as a result of the illicit trade. [We are] confident that these measures will improve public health and deliver significant economic benefits for the EU and its citizens.”

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Man arrested in Sydney after his van rams into police vehicle while carrying methamphetamine worth over A$200 million

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Australian police have charged a man with large commercial drug supply after a van in which he was travelling rammed into a parked police vehicle in Sydney’s north west on Monday while laden with a huge quantity of methamphetamine.

The drug-packed Toyota HiAce is reported to have slammed into the law enforcement truck at around 10:30 yesterday morning while it was parked outside a police station in the Eastwood suburb of the city.

Police said the vehicle that was hit suffered significant damage, but that nobody was hurt in the collision.

The van seen striking the police vehicle in CCTV footage captured outside the station was stopped by a police inspector around one hour after the accident.

It was found during a search to be transporting multiple bags that appeared to contain a crystalline substance.

Tests confirmed the substance was in fact 273kgs of methamphetamine with an estimated street value of over A$200 million ($138 million).

The 28-year-old driver of the van was arrested and taken into custody, while his vehicle was impounded in preparation for extensive forensic examination.

The man, who was charged with large commercial drug supply, negligent driving, and failing to provide information to police officers, was due to appear in court today.

Speaking with reporters, Detective Chief Inspector Glyn Baker said: “This would be one of the easiest drug busts New South Wales police have ever made.

“This man has certainly had a very, very bad day. Crashing into a police vehicle with that amount of drugs on board is somewhat unheard of – it’s an exceptional set of circumstances.”

He continued to say that it remained unclear why the driver had swerved into the police vehicle, adding that detectives are now working to trace the syndicate behind the large consignment of methamphetamine.

Nearly 10 tonnes of methamphetamine is consumed by Australians every year, making it the most popular drug in the country after cannabis, according to the seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report from the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).

Back in June, investigators from Australian Border Force (ABF) revealed they had seized the largest shipment of methamphetamine ever discovered in the country.

Customs officers in Melbourne found almost 1.6 tonnes of the drug with an estimated street value of A$1.197 billion ($840 million) concealed in stereo speakers that had been imported from Thailand.

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Transnational illicit trade preventing UN from achieving sustainable development goals, Tracit warns

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Progress towards achieving the United nations’ sustainable development goals (SDGs) is being thwarted by illicit trade in some of the world’s most important economic sectors, according to a new report from the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (Tracit).

The study reveals that global illicit trade is proving to be a significant deterrence and is holding back progress on all 17 of the UN’s SDGs.

According to the report, illicit trade in all its forms is undermining global efforts to reduce poverty, promote the creation of quality employment and stimulate economic growth, and is also robbing governments in countries around the world of tax revenue that could be invested in public services.

Illicit trade is also undermining global peace by generating funds for organised criminal networks and terrorist organisations, Tracit said.

In the agri-food industry, food fraud to and the large scale-smuggling of agriculture products is undermining farming and global food trade systems, destabilising rural economies and jeopardising production of sustainable food supplies, the report notes.

Elsewhere, illegal agrochemicals such as obsolete, unauthorised, untested, unregulated and counterfeit pesticides are damaging conventional agriculture and preventing farmers from maximising crop quantity and quality by reducing pests and diseases.

The illicit trade in counterfeit and smuggled alcohol is holding back progress in promoting good health and wellbeing, and more specifically an SDG target that aims to substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses resulting from the consumption of hazardous chemicals.

Meanwhile, counterfeiting and copyright piracy is eroding the world’s intellectual property rights system that incentivises innovation, and is stifling economic growth and job creation while inhibiting creative industries from realising their full potential.

The report also notes that the worldwide trade in illicit pharmaceuticals is extending beyond the problem of “fakes” to include substandard, falsified, unregistered and unlicensed drugs as well as their theft, fraud, illicit diversion, smuggling and trafficking.

“From smuggling, counterfeiting and tax evasion, to the illegal sale or possession of goods, services, humans and wildlife, illicit trade is compromising the attainment of the SDGs in significant ways, crowding out legitimate economic activity, depriving governments of revenues for investment in vital public services, dislocating millions of legitimate jobs and causing irreversible damage to ecosystems and human lives,” an introduction to the report reads.

“Despite the recognition of international trade as an important means to achieve the SDGs, insufficient attention has been given to the substantial impact that illicit trade has on holding back progress.”

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Female people smuggler jailed for three years for trafficking Indian migrants into US

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A bail bondswoman with an Indian background has been jailed by a court in the US for her role in multi-million-dollar human trafficking conspiracy that involved illegal migrants being smuggled into America mostly from her country of origin.

Hema Patel was given a three-year sentence and ordered to hand over a large quantity of cash and assets after pleading guilty to alien smuggling for financial gain by fraudulently bonding illegal immigrants from immigration custody and causing their release into the US.

A New York court told Patel she must forfeit her Texas home, two hotels, $7.2 million in bail bonds, $400,000 in cash and 11 gold bars, among other assets.

The network for which Patel worked would charge migrants as much as $60,000 per person to be smuggled into the US and would pay middlemen to ship their human cargo either via northern routes through Canada, or up from the south via Mexico.

Once the migrants arrived in the US and had been taken into custody by immigration control officers, they would call Patel, who would proceed to arrange fraudulent bail documents listing addresses at which they would be staying while their cases were being dealt with.

After these documents had been filed with immigration courts, the migrants would be released into the community, with some being put up temporarily in Patel’s Texas hotels.

A police raid on Patel’s home in Texas in November 2016 resulted in the seizure of thousands of fraudulent migrant bonding records.

In November the following year, her co-defendant Chandresh Kumar Patel, who is no relation, admitted his role in the scam, which is thought to have run from April 2015 until October 2016, when it was broken up by police.

He was also jailed for three years after investigators discovered $80,000 at his New York home.

Speaking after sentencing, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent-in-Charge Angel Melendez commented: “In a classic example of how criminal networks exploit loopholes in our nation’s immigration system to make a profit while threatening the national security of the United States, Hema Patel and her human smuggling co-conspirators manufactured fraudulent bond documents to secure the release of undocumented aliens that were smuggled through the southwest border by an international criminal network.

“HSI remains steadfast in its commitment to secure our nation’s legitimate travel, trade and finance by going after transnational criminal networks, their facilitators and their ill-gained assets.”

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