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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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EU Commissioner for Human Rights calls on member states to protect migrants from people smugglers

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EU member states should take greater action to protect migrants from people smuggling gangs, the Council of Europe has urged.

In a statement issued last week, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic said that existing measures put in place to prevent people smuggling and stop illegal immigration were in some cases making it more difficult for European authorities to target human trafficking networks.

Arguing that it is vital that improvements are made in protection mechanisms across the EU for human trafficking victims, Mijatovic said that it is now time to ensure that “the often-pronounced commitments are delivered for people on the move specifically”.

Mijatovic has previously argued that rules introduced to stop migrants from entering Europe in the first place are fuelling a brutal people trafficking trade that leaves victims exposed to serious abuse from the gangs that run organised migration crime networks.

“A human rights based approach to border management, which provides protection to (potential) victims of trafficking will depend, to a large extent, on constructive co-operation and sharing responsibility, both between Council of Europe member states themselves, and with non-European countries of origin and transit, including preventive work,” Mijatovic wrote.

On Saturday, the new Italian government allowed 82 migrants to land on the southern island of Lampedusa after six days at sea, seemingly bringing an end to the hard-line immigration policies of former interior minister Matteo Salvini.

The Norwegian-flagged Ocean Viking, which is operated by humanitarian groups Médecins Sans Frontières and SOS Mediterranee, had been appealing for a port of safe harbour for a number of days after saving migrants crowded onto unsafe boats by people smugglers in Libya as they attempted to reach Europe.

On Twitter, SOS Mediterranee said: “The #OceanViking just received instruction from Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) of Rome to proceed to Lampedusa, Italy, which has been designated as Place of Safety for the 82 survivors rescued in two operations.”

Separately, the AFP news agency has reported that police in Italy have arrested three suspected members of an organised immigration crime gang on suspicion of the kidnap and torture of migrants looking to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.

The three men, who were identified as a 27-year old from Guinea and two Egyptians aged 24 and 26, were held at a detention centre in Messina, Sicily, after police were told they had allegedly been involved in the rape and murder of migrants.

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UK paedophile grooming gang member handed additional jail time for trolling victims online

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UK paedophile grooming gang member handed additional jail time

A paedophile jailed for 10 years for abusing young girls in the UK town of Rotherham has had 45 months added to his jail term after being found guilty of using social media to target his victims online.

As well as using Facebook and Twitter profiles to troll the young girls he attacked, 35-year-old Waseem Khaliq also used a mobile phone that had been smuggled into his jail to make phone calls to police, during which he made threats towards two officers who investigated the child abuse allegations of which he was convicted.

Khaliq used the smuggled phone to contact the National Crime Agency (NCA) control centre, telling operators that he knew where one of the investigating officers lived, that he was close to discovering the address of the other, and that he hoped they both died of either cancer or Aids.

The child abuser was handed his 10-year jail last month alongside five other men after being convicted of indecent assault and child abduction as part of Operation Stovewood, the NCA’s investigation into historical allegations of abuse and exploitation in Rotherham.

Members of the paedophile grooming gang were said by prosecutors to sit in their cars outside girls’ schools, before plying their underage victims with drugs and alcohol and subjecting them to sexual assaults.

At Sheffield Crown Court, Khaliq was sentenced to an additional 45 months to run consecutively to his initial term after he pleaded guilty to three counts of witness intimidation.

He admitted to setting up a Facebook profile under the false name of Andros Simpson after he was charged, which he used to pose as an investigative journalist looking into child sex grooming gangs operating in Rotherham.

Commenting on the extra jail time handed to Khaliq, NCA Senior Investigating Officer Phillip Marshall said: “Through his vindictive campaign of social media trolling Khaliq only compounded the suffering his victims had already gone through.

“They showed extreme bravery in coming forward and continuing to give evidence despite this, and I once again pay tribute to them.

“Our investigation has been victim focused throughout, and this conviction demonstrates that we will not tolerate attempts to intimidate victims or our officers who work with them.”

Operation Stovewood is described by the NCA as the largest ever investigation into non-recent child sexual exploitation undertaken by law enforcement authorities in the UK.

The probe was launched after allegations emerged that hundreds of young girls had been targeted by grooming gangs in the town for decades.

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Police in Ohio arrest 104 people in major crackdown on sex trafficking

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crackdown on sex trafficking

Undercover police in Ohio have arrested 104 people in an operation targeting the perpetrators of sex trafficking across the US state.

The three-day effort, which involved officials from more than 30 law enforcement agencies and social service organisations, resulted in 53 felony arrests, and 26 detentions relating to crimes committed against children.

In a statement, the office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said a portion of the operation focussed specifically on those seeking to engage in sexual activity with individuals they believed to be children.

“You don’t know when a man buys sex whether it’s genuine consent or, rather, the victim is being forced with a baseball bat, a knife or the next hit of heroin,” Yost said.

“When you hear a man talking about buying sex, he never says, ‘I’m buying a woman’.

“He talks about a whore, a slut, a piece – and that’s because saying what is really happening is too close to the truth for them to handle. People who think and talk like that know in their heart of hearts – it’s slavery.”

Cuyahoga Regional Human Trafficking Director James Mackey said that one of the most effective ways to combat human trafficking is to go after the buyers of sex, without whom human traffikerrs would have no business.

The effort involved undercover police officers carrying out sting operations on the buyers of sexual services in a bid to raise awareness of the reality of human trafficking.

Separately, the Wall Street Journal reports that US authorities are investigating a trio of websites over allegations they may have been used to facilitate human trafficking, prostitution and money laundering.

The probe into EroticMonkey.ch, Eros.com and RubMaps.ch comes more than a year after the closure of Backpage.com, a classified listings website that had been repeatedly accused of facilitating sex trafficking.

In April of last year, US authorities charged Backpage.com creators Michael Lacey and James Larkin and five members of the website’s staff with a number of prostitution and money laundering offences.

It was reported at the time that the website had made it owners in excess of $500 million from listings linked to illegal sex work, with profits laundered through non-related businesses.

The US National Human Trafficking Hotline, which is run by charity Polaris, saw reports of trafficking cases rise by 25% between 2017 and last year.

Nearly 11,000 cases of human trafficking were reported in 2018, of which 7,859 were sex trafficking related, according to Polaris.

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