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Over 1,000 rhinos killed in South Africa last year, as poacher arrests fall

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over 1,000 rhinos killed in South Africa

More than 1,000 rhinos were killed by poachers in South Africa last year, suggesting the country’s efforts to crack down on animal crime are failing to make a significant impact on the criminal gangs that target the creature.

In her recently-released rhino-poaching report, South African Minister of Environmental Affairs Edna Molewa revealed that while the number of rhinos killed for their horns declined slightly to a total of 1,028 in 2017 from 1,054 the previous year, authorities made fewer arrests of poachers compared with 2016.

While the fall in the number of rhinos slaughtered for their horns represented the third such decline in three consecutive years, conservationists greeted the contents of Molewa’s report with disappointment.

South Africa is now considered the last stronghold of the southern white rhino, which has become an increasingly popular target for poachers looking to capitalise on the growing demand for rhino horn in countries such as China and Vietnam.

Rhino horn is routinely added to medicines in Asian countries, where many people mistakenly believe it can cure anything from a bad hangover to cancer.

In a statement, Molewa said, “It is clear from what we have reported to you as a team this morning that we continue to register successes in our fight against rhino poaching, but we are equally aware that the battle is far from won.

“We will in 2018 continue to draw on our achievements, learn from our mistakes, and adapt international best practice. It is only through a collaborative approach that we have come this far – which is a long way from where we were a few years ago.”

In Kruger National Park, one of Africa’s largest game reserves, government efforts to crack down on poaching led to a 24% fall in rhino killings, which dropped to 504 deaths las year from 662 in 2016.

However, the number of suspected poachers and traffickers arrested across the country fell to 518 in 2017, which represented a significant drop from the record 680 people detained the previous year.

Commenting on the figures, Richard Thomas, a spokesman for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring charity, told National Geographic: “Clearly poachers will go for the easiest targets, and if South Africa’s main crime fighting institutions are failing to coordinate their efforts to prevent poaching effectively, then the country’s rhinos will inevitably be targeted.”

The report was published after Thai police arrested the suspected head of Asia’s largest and most prolific wildlife smuggling gangs earlier this month.

Boonchai Bach, who is said to have made a fortune from trafficking illicit animal parts out of Africa to Asia, was detained on suspicion of smuggling 14 rhino horns estimated to be worth around $975,400 to Thailand in December.

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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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Over 200 held in Interpol-backed operation targeting Balkan human trafficking networks

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Interpol-backed operation targeting Balkan human trafficking networks

An Interpol-backed operation targeting human trafficking and migrant smuggling rings in the Balkans has resulted in the arrest of 236 organised crime network members.

Operation Theseus, an eight-day initiative that took place last month, involved 3,000 immigration and law enforcement agents from countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey.

As well as resulting in the detention of scores of suspected members of organised immigration crime gangs, the operation also saw specialist units dispatched to smuggling hotspots such as border points, rail and bus stations and entertainment districts rescue 89 victims of human trafficking.

The crackdown also resulted in the detection of 2,000 migrants.

Over the course of the campaign, participating investigators carried out 2.5 million passenger checks and 54,000 vehicle assessments and monitored a total of 1,500 flights.

Raids carried out during the operation resulted in the seizure of more than 1,500 counterfeit passports and national ID cards, 30 boats, 200 inflatable boats and buoys, 10 firearms, 60kgs of drugs and $200,000 in cash.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Interpol chief Jürgen Stock said in a statement: “Organised crime groups prey on the vulnerable and help them cross borders illegally for hefty sums.

“For some, the relationship ends on arrival but for others, it is only just the beginning of a bleak future of exploitation.

“Interpol’s role is to help police identify and break the networks behind this traffic and ensure their activities become more risky and less lucrative.”

Interpol said the operation was part of its wider efforts to disrupt human trafficking and migrant smuggling in the region, and was funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Separately, French and Dutch police have broken up a major organised immigration crime network that is thought to have smuggled some 10,000 Kurdish migrants into the UK.

The Europol-backed operation resulted in the detention of 23 suspected members of the gang, and the seizure of guns and cars.

Members of the network are said to have charged migrants as much as €7 000 ($7,732) each to be smuggled into the UK in refrigerated trucks.

In a statement, Europol said: “On the action day, Europol deployed two experts on-the-spot, one in France and one in the Netherlands, to cross-check operational information in real-time. This case was also developed as part of EMPACT JOT Dunqett operational action.”

 

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