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Nigeria must stop voodoo sex trafficking gangs smuggling young girls to Europe

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voodoo sex trafficking gangs

Earlier this month, Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was forced to deny allegations it had hired witch doctors to help prevent young women being smuggled out of the country to work as prostitutes in Europe. While admitting the agency is attempting to engage with as many sections of society as possible in order to gain a better understanding of the role they play in the country’s massive problem with human trafficking and modern slavery, NAPTIP head of press Josiah Emerole claimed the organisation had merely spoken with witch doctors in an effort to dissuade them from placing voodoo curses on people smugglers’ victims. Juju oaths are routinely used by traffickers to make their victims believe they or a member of their family will come to some sort of serious harm or die if they fail to comply with their captors’ demands. Where the NAPTIP once arrested priests known to have carried out these types of rituals, the agency now seeks to “sensitise” them to the harm they cause by brainwashing trafficking victims, Emerole said. Whether or not this new approach will be of any benefit whatsoever remains to be seen, but what is clear is that the Nigerian government’s attempts to stop vulnerable young women being trafficked out of the country after being put through juju rituals have so far failed spectacularly.

For years now, law enforcement authorities across Europe and beyond have reported rescuing petrified young Nigerian women who have been put through horrific juju rituals before being smuggled into brothels and forced to sell their bodies for sex. Rather than declining, evidence suggests the rate at which traffickers are abusing these women is on the rise, fuelled in no small part by the ongoing Mediterranean migrant crisis. Only last week, police in Spain and the UK said they had arrested 12 people suspected of being members of an international human trafficking network that used juju magic to control the young women it exploited. The gang is said to have pulled out victims’ pubic hair and forced them to eat raw chicken as part of voodoo rituals before trafficking them to brothels mostly situated in Italy and Spain. No more than a few weeks earlier, Spanish police rescued 16 Nigerian women who had been trafficked into the country before being forced to work as prostitutes. Prior to being taken from their home country, the women were reported to have been put through ritualistic juju ceremonies, during which they were made to believe they would suffer death, insanity or serious illness if they disobeyed their captors, refused to sell their bodies or went to the police.

The fear these voodoo rituals instil is so strong and pervasive that victims have been known to escape protective custody after being rescued in a bid to return to their captors, petrified that breaking the oath they had sworn would damn either them or their close family members to death. The hold the curses have on victims can also make it incredibly difficult for police to build a case against members of people smuggling gangs, who use juju magic to convince the vulnerable young women they exploit that cooperating with authorities will result the oath they have sworn being broken. As a consequence, it is rare for members of Nigerian trafficking gangs to be brought to justice in Europe and other parts of the world in which they operate.

In a rare example of juju traffickers being successfully convicted, a UK court jailed two people smugglers for a total of 10 years for forcing their victims to work as prostitutes in November 2014. Lizzy Idahosa and her partner Jackson Omoruyi were found guilty of inciting prostitution and money laundering at Cardiff Crown Court. One of the pairs’ victims explained how she was cut with a razor, forced to drink dirty water and made to eat snakes and snails during a juju ritual designed to make her believe she would suffer illness, madness, infertility or death if she failed to comply with her captors’ demands. In August 2016, a Dutch court sentenced a Nigerian-born man to seven years behind bars after convicting him of leading an international prostitution ring that used voodoo magic to control its victims. Peter Kwame S and his associates trafficked underage Nigerian girls to the Netherlands after putting them through voodoo rituals in Nigeria to make them swear an oath that they would not go to the police.

The infrequency with which members of Nigerian juju trafficking gangs are brought to justice in Europe and beyond sadly makes these examples remarkable, and in no way indicative of the scale of the problem. In 2016, the International Organisation for Migration estimated that 80% of Nigerian teenage girls and young women who arrived in Italy that year were victims of sex trafficking and exploitation. It is likely many of them were destined to be transported onto brothels in other EU countries. While European law enforcement agencies work hard to safeguard young women and girls unfortunate enough to fall victim to these gangs, the very nature of the “curses” placed upon them make it very difficult to bring traffickers to justice. As such, it is now vital that greater efforts are made to stop the problem at source. Instead of attempting to “sensitise” witch doctors to the harm they are causing by placing juju curses on traffickers’ victims, Nigerian lawmakers should concentrate their efforts on pursing the prosecution of everybody involved in this barbaric trade at their end.

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European police agencies seize 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides in latest edition of Operation Silver Axe

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550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides

The latest instalment of a Europol-coordinated operation targeting agricultural fraudsters has resulted in the seizure of 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides across Europe and the arrest of three individuals.

Now in its fourth year, Operation Silver Axe, which is supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and involves law enforcement agencies in nearly 30 countries, saw investigators in search of fake pesticides carry out inspections at major seaports, airports and land borders.

Law enforcement officials in 29 participating nations also searched production and repackaging facilities looking for pesticide products that had not been tested to make sure they pose no risk to the environment or the health and safety of users, consumers and members of the public.

First launched in 2012, Operation Silver Axe is also intended to target the sale of counterfeit pesticides that infringe intellectual property rights such as trademarks, patents and copyright.

The bogus pesticides seized during this year’s operation would have been enough to spray 49,000km2 (30,447m2), an area the equivalent to the whole of Estonia.

Ahead of this year’s operation, OLAF provided participating nations with intelligence on 120 suspicious shipments of pesticides transported into member states.

Last year’s operation, which took place across 27 countries, saw investigators confiscate some 360 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides.

Since its inception seven years ago, Operation Silver Axe has resulted in 1,222 tonnes of illegal and fake counterfeit products being removed from circulation.

In a statement, Hans Mattaar, Technical Director of the European Crop Care Association (ECCA) said: “Every new Silver Axe operation shows how improving cooperation between law enforcement agencies leads to more efficiency in the fight against illegal pesticides.

“ECCA is pleased to see the result of Silver Axe IV, but at the same time concerned about the ongoing illegal business.

“We look forward to continuing our contribution to Europol in broadening the scope of Silver Axe.

“To increasing the pressure is the only way to discourage to discourage the criminal organisations behind this illegal trade.”

According to the European Crop Protection Association, the illicit global trade in counterfeit pesticides is growing at a swift rate, with increasing amounts of bogus agricultural products being sold to farmers across the globe by organised criminal networks.

The agency warns that fake pesticide products could be made from chemicals that are banned or restricted, and may lead to the total loss of treated crops, potentially compromising the livelihood of farmers.

It is estimated that counterfeit pesticides make up some 15% of the global $60 billion crop protection market.

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Criminal money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons, UK fraud prevention agency finds

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money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons

A new report from UK fraud prevention service Cifas has revealed that criminals ae increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons in a bid to persuade them to act as money mules.

In the latest edition of its annual Fraudscape study, Cifas said that it received more than 40,000 cases which “bore the hallmarks” of money mule activity in 2018, which was up 26% compared to the previous year.

While a rise in money mule activity was recorded across all age groups, the largest increase (35%) was seen among those aged between 41 and 60 last year.

Money mules agree to allow their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities, and are typically offered a cut of the money they move as a commission, or high-value items such as expensive trainers in return.

Recruiters typically target potential mules online via social media platforms, historically seeking out young male victims who might be in financial difficulty, such as the unemployed or students.

While Cifas’ latest report shows that young people under the age of 30 are still by far the primary target of money mule recruiters, last year saw a marked rise in the number of older people becoming involved in the crime, albeit from a very low starting point.

More widely, the report reveals that Cifas members recorded almost 324,000 cases of fraud last year, which was up 6% on 2017.

Commenting on the contents of the study, Cifas CEO Mike Haley said: “Fraud in the UK continues to rise and fraudsters are constantly finding new methods of committing fraud.

“From identity theft through to using the young and naïve as money mules to launder money, the economic and social harm to the nation is growing.

“The only way to fight the threat is to combine communication and collaboration, working together to present a united front against the perpetrators.”

Acting as a money mule might seem like an easy way to make some quick cash, but those caught allowing their accounts to be used for the laundering of the proceeds of criminal activities can face stiff penalties, and will rarely be able to plead ignorance if they are caught.

Back in April of this year, police in Ireland warned students thinking of acting as money mules that they could face as many as 14 years behind bars if they allowed their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder money.

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Wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA

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wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine

Consumption of heroin and MDMA has risen to the highest levels ever recorded in Australia by an annual study that measures the presence of illicit substances in the country’s wastewater.

The seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report, released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), also showed that Australians now use twice as much methamphetamine as any other illicit drug.

According to the study, Australia ranks second for methamphetamine and MDMA use among 25 countries that produce comparable stimulant data, but has relatively low comparative cocaine consumption.

The study revealed that while the consumption of nicotine and alcohol fell across the country in the 12 months to December last year, use of methamphetamine continued to outstrip the consumption of all other illicit drug types and pharmaceuticals.

The report estimates that Australia’s annual consumption of methamphetamine has reached nearly 10 tonnes, which compares to just over four tonnes of cocaine, and 750kgs of heroin.

Australian drug users are thought to favour synthetic narcotics on account of the cost and expense of shipping substances such as heroin and cocaine into the country from the regions in which they are grown.

The study also found that while use of synthetic opioid fentanyl plateaued in the final six months of 2018, oxycodone consumption rose over the same period.

On a regional basis, South and Western Australia were found to have the highest average use of methamphetamine, while Victoria had the highest rate of heroin consumption, and New South Wales the top level of cocaine use.

Unveiling the latest edition of the report, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer Michael Phelan said: “The Australian community continues to consume illicit drugs at concerning levels and the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is providing an important, unified and consistent guiding tool for developing holistic drug responses.

“We are only now starting to realise the full benefits of the ongoing programme.”

The study found that average heroin consumption decreased in both capital city and regional areas, while average cannabis consumption increased in both city and regional sites.

The ACIC noted that the report covered 54% of the Australian population, which equates to about 12.6 million people, and that 50 wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the December 2018 collection, monitoring the consumption of 13 substances.

Earlier this month, the Australian Border Force (ABF) announced that it had seized 1.6 tonnes of methamphetamine, which was said to have been the largest shipment of the drug ever discovered in the country.

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