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US government looks to offload Bitcoin cache seized in illicit pharma case

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Bitcoin cache

The US government is looking to cash in on a surge in the value of Bitcoin by selling off cryptocurrency confiscated during one of Utah’s largest-ever drugs investigations.

A federal judge in the state has granted permission for a cache of the digital currency to be auctioned after its value soared from less than $500,000 when it was seized a year ago to around $9 million.

The digital cash belonged to Aaron Shamo, who stands accused of selling counterfeit pharmaceuticals on the dark web.

Prosecutors claim Shamo sold tablets containing deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl on hidden online marketplaces to buyers all over the US, and at one point made $2.8 million in less than a year.

Detectives discovered 500,000 pills labelled as Oxycodone and Xanax when they raided two Salt Lake City-area homes said to be linked to Shamo in November 2016, along with $1.2 million in cash stashed in one property’s basement.

Shamo was charged with possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute, and could face up to 20 years in jail and $1 million in fines if convicted.

Proceeds from the sale of the Bitcoin will be held until Shamo’s case is resolved, but prosecutors are keen to take advantage of a recent spike in the value of the cryptocurrency, which some analysts have cautioned is the subject of the largest financial bubble to have built up since the dotcom boom of the late nineties.

While no decision has been made with regard to which government department would benefit from the funds raised once Shamo’s case has been concluded, it will most likely be given to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The value of Bitcoin has rocketed over the past few months, rising from around $2,000 in May to close to $20,000 earlier this month.

Conscious of volatility of the value of Bitcoin, which has fluctuated wildly in recent weeks, the US government is keen to secure the sale of Shamo’s cryptocurrency before prices fall.

In a television interview last week, one of Britain’s leading financial regulators said people who invest in Bitcoin should be prepared to lose all of their money.

Speaking with the BBC’s Newsnight, Financial Conduct Authority chief Andrew Bailey said: “If you look at what has happened this year, I would caution people. We know relatively little about what informs the price of Bitcoin.

“It’s an odd commodity as well, as the supply is fixed. If you want to invest in Bitcoin be prepared to lose your money – that would be my serious warning.”

Worries have been raised that cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are often used by organised criminals and terrorists on account of the fact they are unregulated and hard to trace.

Last week, EU member states agreed on new rules to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing through cryptocurrency exchanges.

 

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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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