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Global crackdown on the smuggling of cultural artefacts results in seizure of more than 41,000 items

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stolen cultural artefacts recovered

A coalition of law enforcement agencies around the world have seized more than 41,000 items as part of a crackdown on the illegal trafficking of stolen cultural goods.

Organised by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), Interpol and Europol, Operation Athena and the Europe-focused Operation Pandora II resulted in the recovery of cultural artefacts such as furniture, archaeological pieces, paintings, coins, musical instruments and sculptures.

The items were seized during checks conducted at border crossing and airports in more than 80 countries, and raids on multiple auction houses, museums and private homes.

The operation resulted in a total of 101 arrests, and the launch of more than 300 investigations.

In a statement outlining the highlights of the operation, Interpol noted how police in Argentina recovered the shell of a Glyptodon, an extinct mammal. The shell, estimated to be more than one million years old, was on sale for $150,000.

In Brazil, customs officials discovered a marble head hidden in a passenger’s suitcase, while their French counterparts at Gare du Nord railway station in Paris intercepted a painting by Nicolas de Stael worth approximately €500,000 ($616,282) as it was being smuggled on a Eurostar train to London.

During a single operation conducted in Spain, police confiscated more than 2,000 individual cultural items, including numerous coins from Roman and other Empires and archaeological objects made of ceramics, metal and stone.

Over in Greece, police recovered 41 archaeological objects from four properties linked to a national entrepreneur.

Commenting on the seizures, WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya said: “The results of the Operations Athena and Pandora II speak for themselves: cooperation between customs and police can yield excellent results and should be promoted and sustained at all levels. The fight against illicit trafficking of cultural objects has been long neglected by law enforcement agencies, however, we cannot turn a blind eye to it.

“While we lose our common history and identity, the proceeds of trafficking fuel terrorism, conflicts and other criminal activities. We will keep working in this area of enforcement and will soon deploy the first specialized global training curriculum for Customs administrations – a very concrete and hands-on outcome of our common work.”

Noting how the action had taken a significant toll on the organised criminal networks behind the illicit trafficking of cultural goods, Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “For criminals, the black market in works of art is becoming just as lucrative as for drugs, weapons and counterfeit goods. Ancient artefacts also represent a potential source of great wealth for terrorist groups.

“To know what has been stolen and from where is the first step in any investigation, which is why Interpol is continuing to encourage the creation of specialised national unit and databases.”

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Europol and Eurojust help EU law enforcement agencies dismantle two organised immigration crime networks

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two organised immigration crime networks

Police from Italy and Greece have smashed an organised immigration crime network that used leisure boats and pleasure craft to smuggle migrants across the Adriatic Sea.

In the culmination of an operation that was backed by EU law enforcement agencies Europol and Eurojust, investigators from both countries participated in a day of action that involved raids on 13 properties and the arrest of eight suspects of Greek, Italian and Middle Eastern nationality.

The organised immigration crime gang behind the smuggling conspiracy, which is said to have been active since 2018, was allegedly responsible for trafficking some 150 migrants from the west of Greece via the Strait of Corfu to the southern Italian coast between Otranto and Lecce.

Members of the gang were charging migrants as much as €6,000 ($6,666) per person for the 12-hour journey across the sea, which would sometimes be completed in leisure boats as small as ten metres long.

The gang reportedly smuggled migrants as young as 13.

In a statement, Vice-President of Eurojust Filippo Spiezia said: “Tackling migrant smuggling is one of the priorities for Eurojust to enable a good coordination of actions, as we have been able to do in this case.

“At a time when Greece faces a strong migratory pressure, we have to combine efforts and as EU agencies support the effort of national authorities to combat criminal organisations that exploit migrants.”

In a separate operation, Europol and Eurojust helped French and Italian authorities break up another organised immigration crime gang that trafficked migrants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan from Italy to other EU member states.

Ten Pakistani nationals were arrested in Italy and one in France as part of a day of action carried by investigators from both countries.

This network, which is thought to have been operational for two years, used dilapidated vans to smuggle migrants from Italy to countries across western Europe.

At the end of last month, the European Union pledged €147.7 million to support four projects addressing issues related to migration in North Africa.

The money will be used to help Morocco deal with organised immigration crime and irregular migration and improve the living conditions in Libyan communities and protect refugees and vulnerable migrants stranded in Libya through voluntary returns.

The European Commission said the cash would also be used to offer opportunities for labour migration and mobility in North Africa.

EU Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Olivér Várhelyi said in a statement: “With this new package we are deepening our partnership with Morocco to further reduce irregular arrivals on the Western Mediterranean route and prevent people risking their lives.”

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Major US hotel chains sued for failing to prevent sex trafficking in their rooms for decades

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US lawyers are suing 12 major hotel chains on behalf of women who claim the firms have profited from allowing sex trafficking and prostitution to take place in their properties.

In total, 13 women have accused hotel brands including Best Western and Hilton of failing to prevent sex trafficking from taking place in their rooms, alleging that the companies have made money from trafficked women and children being sexually exploited.

New York law firm Weitz & Luxenberg has filed litigation in a federal court in Columbus, Ohio, that brings together 13 separate lawsuits relating to hotels in a number of US cities, marking the first time the hospitality industry has faced such action.

Accusing the hotel firms of benefitting financially from the trafficking of women and children and “providing a marketplace for sex trafficking”, the suit alleges the companies have allowed sex trafficking to take place across their businesses for decades, and says it is time that they were held accountable for allowing the illicit trade to continue unchecked.

KOIN 6 News reports that one woman who claims she was forced by a pimp to sleep with as many as seven men every night is talking legal action against six hotel firms for the role they played in her abuse.

She is seeking $10 million in damages.

“Rather than taking timely and effective measures to thwart this epidemic, defendant hotels have instead chosen to ignore the open and obvious presence of sex trafficking on their properties, enjoying the profit from rooms rented for this explicit and apparent purpose,” the suit reads.

In a statement, Hilton Worldwide Holdings said: “Hilton condemns all forms of human trafficking, including for sexual exploitation. As signatories of the ECPAT [formerly End Child Prostitution and Trafficking] Code since 2011, we are fully committed, in each and every one of our markets, to protecting individuals from all forms of abuse and exploitation.”

Wyndham Hotels & Resorts said: “We condemn human trafficking in any form.”

Back in January, Marriott announced that it had provided 500,000 of its staff members with training on how to spot the signs that a guest might be a victim of human trafficking, and what they should do in the event they are faced with such a scenario.

Speaking at the time, David Rodriguez, Chief Global Human Resources Officer at Marriott International, said: “Hotels can unfortunately be unwilling venues for this unconscionable crime – and as a global hotel company that cares about human rights, we’re proud to be training hotel workers across the Marriott system to spot the signs.”

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UK charities warned to look out for social engineering spear phishing emails

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social engineering spear phishing emails

The UK’s Charity Commission has warned that scammers are impersonating charity workers via email and attempting to change employees’ bank details.

After receiving several reports of spear phishing campaigns targeting people who work at charitable organisations, the commission cautioned that fraudsters are using spoofed email addresses to pose as staff with authority to update employees’ banking information.

The fraudsters behind the social engineering scam typically write in their emails that they have changed their bank details or opened a new account.

Alan Bryce, head of development, counter fraud and cyber crime at the commission, said: “We know several charities have been targeted by this fraud and we want to ensure others are equipped to protect themselves.

“So, our message to charities is clear: read and understand our guidance on fraud, and check who’s sending an email whenever you receive a message about changes to staff bank details.”

In advice on how charities can protect themselves, the commission said organisations should review internal procedures regarding how employee details are amended and approved, and train staff not to click on links or open attachments in suspicious emails.

A report published by the commission to coincide with the UK’s Charity Fraud Awareness Week, which took place in October, revealed that over half of fraud carried out against charities is committed by perpetrators known to the organisation affected.

The study found that while over two-thirds of UK charities consider fraud to be a major risk, less than 9% offer fraud awareness training to their staff members.

More than half (58%) of charitable organisations surveyed for the study said they believe cyber crime poses a major threat to the sector.

In a separate report also published in October, the commission and the UK Fraud Advisory Panel revealed that one in every six major organisations that make up Britain’s £80 billion ($105.4 million). charity sector will be affected by cyber crime over the course of the next two years.

Twenty-two percent of charities said they believe that cyber crime is a greater risk to the sector than any other threat, with larger charities typically being more likely to appreciate the risk of cyber crime.

“This may be because larger charities generally have a greater capability to detect cyber crime,” the report concluded.

“Many small and medium sized charities are less aware of the cyber crime threat, yet are probably more at risk.”

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