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People traffickers switch to Spanish route after authorities close off central Mediterranean

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People traffickers switch to Spanish route

Human traffickers are increasingly avoiding the central Mediterranean route in favour of attempting to smuggle migrants into Europe via Spain, new Frontex data suggests.

The number of illegal immigrants arriving in Spain by sea more than doubled last year, according to the EU’s border protection agency, which expects the increase to continue throughout 2018 as smugglers face a continuing crackdown on their boats leaving the coast of Libya for Italy and Greece.

In all, nearly 23,000 migrants were reported to have reached Spain in vessels that left the shorelines of Algeria or Morocco last year, representing more than a two-fold increase on the previous year.

According to a report from the Times of London, smugglers using the route are resorting to tactics traditionally used as by drug traffickers, cramming their human cargo into motorboats that would typically be used to transport hashish into Spain.

Paying traffickers as much as €3,000 ($3,675) for a seat in a boat, economic migrants heading to Spain are dropped off by smugglers on beaches in Almeria, Malaga, Motril, Murcia and Tarifa.

More than 220 migrants are thought to have lost their lives while being shipped over from the north coast of Africa to Spain last year, up from 116 in 2016.

In response to the increasing number of migrants opting to access Europe via Spain, Frontex is now finalising plans for a permanent border operation and the use of air surveillance across the western Mediterranean.

“The gangs are just changing routes to Spain when tougher controls are introduced in Italy or Greece. This will just carry on unless government policies are changed,” Estrella Galán, Secretary General of Cear, an organisation working with asylum seekers, told the Times.

“Governments need to tackle the causes of migration, decriminalise it and introduce a visa system.”

Separately, a new report published by academics from Cambridge University has revealed that the majority of people smugglers are lone operators, and are not associated with “Mafia-like” organised crime networks.

The study found that smuggling routes towards Europe are highly fragmented, with each stage sustaining a marketplace of traffickers who have few links to established criminal organisations.

Dr Paolo Campana from Cambridge University’s Institute of Criminology, the lead author of the study, commented: “The smuggling ring moving migrants from the Horn of Africa to Northern Europe via Libya does not appear to have the thread of any single organisation running through it.

“This is a far cry from how Mafia-like organisations operate, and a major departure from media reports claiming that shadowy kingpins monopolise certain routes.”

Campana added that law enforcement agencies must coordinate efforts to target people smugglers in every country along the trafficking route to Europe, and focus on disrupting the activities of clusters of offenders in different nations simultaneously.

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British gang that built subterranean drug factory jailed for importing cannabis worth £15 million

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subterranean drug factory

Seven members of a British drug trafficking gang have been jailed for smuggling cannabis worth £15 million ($18.4 million) into the UK in shipments of lettuce.

The huge quantity of drugs the Manchester gang sneaked into the UK was smuggled on lorries across the English Channel hidden in consignments of vegetables and kitchen equipment, according to a statement from Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

Once in the country, the cannabis was transported by front companies owned by the gang to locations in Manchester, Bolton and Warrington, where it was stored in multiple lockups.

Members of the gang were also found to have constructed an underground bunker out of buried storage units on a farm in North Wales to house a subterranean cannabis farm.

Police discovered that the gang used bogus businesses as cover for the cannabis importation and cultivation conspiracy, including a fake kitchen equipment firm.

Investigators uncovered the trafficking operation after seizing 177kgs of cannabis with an estimated street value of more than £1.5 million in August 2018.

This led to a series of raids on numerous storage units across the north of England, and the discovery of the underground cannabis factory.

Gang member Michael Harley, who was living in a caravan on the farm where the underground bunker was located, admitted that the construction was built three years previously, but told detectives that cannabis production had been halted shortly afterwards as it was too wet to grow cannabis.

On Friday at Manchester Crown Court, ringleader Scott Byrne was convicted of importing cannabis and sentenced to 13 years behind bars.

Speaking after sentencing, Detective Sergeant Richard Castley of GMP’s Serious Organised Crime Group investigating team, commented: “Thanks to the excellent work of our officers and colleagues on partner forces and agencies, we have managed to bring down a vast drugs network.

“These men were responsible for attempting to import enormous amounts of cannabis into the UK; the sale of which would have been used to further criminal enterprise.

“They even went to the expense of creating a large underground complex intended for cultivating the drug.

“However, the exceptional detective work of our investigation team was able to identify and dismantle this organised crime group.

“Consignments packaged among lettuces or kitchen equipment were intercepted and prevented from finding their way onto our streets.

“Drugs blight communities and ruin lives. Their sale is used to further the activities of organised criminal gangs who have no regard for the safety of the public or the rule of law.”

 

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Transnational crime syndicates flood Southeast Asia to exploit weak regional governance, UN study warns

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transnational crime syndicates flood Southeast Asia

A new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has cautioned that organised crime networks operating in Southeast Asia are generating record and even dangerous levels profit.

In a study titled Transnational Organised Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact,  the agency warns that recent law enforcement activity in the region and its surrounding areas has resulted in illicit groups altering their trafficking routes while transferring and scaling up their activities in locations with poor governance, partially around border areas.

Synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine have become the most valuable illicit market for crime syndicates active in the Southeast Asia region, partly on account of law enforcement action in China forcing narcotics producers to look for new production bases.

According to the report, transnational organised crime networks operating in Burma in cooperation with militias and ethnic armed groups are manufacturing and trafficking both crystalline and tablet methamphetamine.

The study also reveals that the region has become a hub for the global trade in counterfeit consumer goods and illicit pharmaceuticals, noting that Southeast Asia is a key transit point for illicit tobacco products and bogus medicines.

Elsewhere, the report reveals motorcycle gangs from Australia are relocating to the region in order to set up new chapters involved in drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and other crimes.

The Australian gangs are said to have moved into the region to set up bases for their methamphetamine and drug precursor chemical operations after coming under increased pressure from police back in their home country.

UNODC concludes that the growing power and influence of organised crime in Southeast Asia is allowing illicit syndicates to use their financial muscle to further corrupt and undermine the rule of law, and that these groups now represent a primary threat to the public security, health and sustainable development of the region.

Speaking as the report was unveiled, UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas commented: “Organised crime groups are generating tens of billions of dollars in Southeast Asia from the cross-border trafficking and smuggling of illegal drugs and precursors, people, wildlife, timber and counterfeit goods.

“Profits have expanded and illicit money is increasingly moving through the regional casino industry and other large cash flow businesses.

“Southeast Asia has an organised crime problem, and it is time to coalesce around solutions to address the conditions that have allowed illicit businesses to grow, and to secure and cooperate along borders.”

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Colombian man caught with half kilo of cocaine under wig at Barcelona airport

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cocaine under wig

Police working at Barcelona’s El Prat international airport have arrested a man who was found to have half a kilo of cocaine concealed beneath an ill-fitting hairpiece.

Officers spotted the man after he arrived on a flight from the Colombian capital of Bogota.

They noticed that he was acting in a nervous manner and appeared to be sporting a disproportionately large hairpiece under a hat.

After taking him to one side for a search, investigators discovered a package of white powder that had been stuck to the man’s head underneath the outsized toupee.

The 65-year-old was arrested immediately, and was later charged after tests confirmed that the white powder was cocaine that was estimated to be worth €30,000 ($33,390).

In one photograph released by Spain’s national police force, the man can be seen from the side wearing a wig that protrudes to an unnatural height over the top of his head.

Another shot taken from the front shows the package of cocaine clearly visible beneath the hairpiece.

In a statement cited by the Reuters news agency, Spanish police said: “There is no limit to the inventiveness of drug traffickers trying to mock controls.”

Spain, which is one of the main entry points for cocaine exported into Europe from Colombia, has seen several novel large-scale smuggling attempts over the course of the past year, the majority of which appeared to have benefitted from better planning than the wig conspiracy.

Back in June, Spanish police revealed they had arrested 11 suspected traffickers after discovering a tonne of cocaine hidden inside fake stones shipped into the country from South America.

Investigators released a video that showed officers smashing open the bogus stones to discover 785 packages of cocaine, each of which was estimated to contain more than 1kg of the drug.

Just weeks earlier, police in the country announced they had smashed a South American organised trafficking network that injected large quantities of cocaine into plastic pellets before smuggling them to three specialist laboratories in Madrid and Toledo, where the drugs would be extracted by experts who had been flown in from Colombia.

Last August, Spanish investigators intercepted 67kgs of cocaine that had been concealed inside pineapple skins.

The gang behind the plot had hollowed out fresh pineapples before filling their skins with cylinders containing as much as 7kgs of cocaine each.

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