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Police in Spain and Portugal disrupt major euro-counterfeiting gang

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Portuguese and Spanish police have closed down an illicit money-printing shop during a Europol-backed operation.

Investigators arrested two men and one woman, aged between 21 and 55, who were allegedly behind a conspiracy to produce bogus euro banknotes.

The group is said to have been behind the production of fake euro notes that were widely distributed around Spain and Portugal, but were also found in a number of other countries, including Austria, Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Nine houses were raided as part of the operation targeting the gang, which resulted in the seizure of 1,131 fake €20 notes, 401 €50 notes and 49 €500 notes, with a total face value of €67,170.

Fourteen 10,000 francs notes from the Central African Republic were also recovered during the operation.

Along with the counterfeit currency, officers also confiscated a range of equipment related to the production bogus banknotes, such as guillotines, press dies, holographic tape rolls, computers and printers.

Numerous computer files related to the illegal activity were also identified.

Europol, which is the European Union’s Central Office for Combating Euro Counterfeiting, facilitates the exchange of information on bogus currencies and provides expertise, criminal and forensic analysis, training, financial and technical support to law enforcement agencies inside and outside the EU.

At the end of last month, the Bank of Portugal (BdP) said it removed 9,800 counterfeit euro banknotes from circulation between July and December 2017.

According to a statement issued by the European Central Bank (ECB), 363,000 counterfeit euro banknotes were withdrawn from circulation in the second half of 2017.

During the second half of 2017, €20 and €50 notes remained the most counterfeited banknotes, accounting for around 85% of all bogus notes detected in the 28-nation bloc.

“The Eurosystem communicates in various ways to help people distinguish between genuine and counterfeit notes, as well as to help professional cash handlers ensure that banknote-handling and processing machines can reliably identify and withdraw counterfeits from circulation,” the ECB said.

“The Eurosystem has a duty to safeguard the integrity of the euro banknotes and continue improving banknote technology. The second series of banknotes – the Europa series – is even more secure and is helping to maintain public confidence in the currency.”

The ECB has published guidance advising consumers and businesses how to spot fake euro notes, observing that the paper euros are printed on should feel “crisp and firm”, while higher value notes have a watermark – which becomes visible if the banknote is viewed against light.

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Rampant poaching decimates South African sea snail populations

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poaching decimates South African sea snail populations

Poachers have stolen 96 million abalone sea snails from the coastal waters of South Africa over the past 18 years, leading to a huge collapse in numbers of a species that was once abundant in the region, according to a new report from illegal wildlife trade monitoring NGO Traffic.

The study found that 90% of seas snails smuggled out of South Africa make their way to Hong Kong, where the animal’s meat is considered a delicacy, as it is in many other Asian nations.

Traffic estimates that poachers in South Africa are typically responsible for the disappearance of 2,000 tonnes of abalone every year, more than 20 times the amount that is allowed to be farmed legally.

In total, the illicit market is thought to be worth some $60 million annually.

Traffic’s report, which has been released alongside a documentary that explores the illegal trade, warns that the rocketing illegal harvesting of the animal is resulting in a huge annual loss for the local economy, and is at least partly being controlled by organised crime networks.

According to the study, an average of at least one abalone seizure took place every day between 2000 and 2016.

“Continued illegal harvesting and associated trade will have devastating impacts on abalone stocks and far-reaching negative socio-economic consequences for coastal communities whose economies, to a greater or lesser extent, are dependent on the proceeds of abalone poaching and trade,” the study says.

Noting the trade’s link to organised criminal cartels, it said: “Seizures of abalone often involved seizures of other contraband, commonly cash, cars or drugs.

“A number of seizures have included other high-value wildlife products, suggesting that the syndicates involved are not only focusing on the trade in poached abalone.”

Concluding its report, Traffic makes a number of recommendations, including the establishment of traceability systems, regional collaboration with neighbouring countries to prevent the smuggling of abalone, and the setting up of state-driven socio-economic initiatives to stem poaching of the animal.

Abalone can fetch more than $550 a plate in parts of Asia, driving many poor South Africans to take up poaching, risking their lives by diving in search of the in-demand mollusc.

The decline in local populations of sea snails has also been hit by the presence of Asian organised crime groups, who have moved into the area to take advantage of increasing demand for the animal in their home countries.

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No-deal Brexit could hit UK’s ability to tackle organised crime and terrorism, police warn

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The UK’s ability to tackle terrorism sand serious organised crime will be severely hampered by a hard Brexit, British police chiefs have warned.

Pulling out of the EU without a deal could see UK law enforcement agencies and security services lose access to vital crime-fighting tools such as the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System, the bloc’s intelligence systems and data held by Europol.

Announcing a new £2 million ($2.6 million) unit that will explore how alternative systems could be used if no deal is struck between the EU and Britain before the end of next March, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Sara Thornton said: “The fallbacks we’re going to have to use will be slower, will be more bureaucratic and it will make it harder for us to protect UK citizens and make it harder to protect EU citizens.”

“We are determined to do everything we can to mitigate that, but it will be hard.”

Using the recent Salisbury Novichok attack as an example of how a no-deal Brexit could impact UK police operations, Thornton noted how much more difficult it would be for Britain to detain the two men suspected of carrying it out should they enter the EU without a European Arrest Warrant in place.

The new unit will examine the effectiveness of non-EU crime fighting institutions and mechanisms, such as Interpol, bilateral channels and Council of Europe conventions.

In a statement on the contingency plans, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said the withdrawal of resources such as the European Criminal Records Information System and the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Crime Threats would seriously impact Britain’s ability “to track criminals’ movements, monitor sex offenders and locate fugitives”.

“European law enforcement is more effective when we take coordinated action against shared priorities,” said Steve Rodhouse, NCA Director General of Operations.

“A lack of access to these European tools would mean a reduction in the ability of the UK to contribute to keeping Europe safe.”

In May, the Times of London reported that France had attempted to block British attempts to remain part of EU security systems after Brexit, quoting one UK government official as saying: “Normally France is quite helpful when it comes to security co-operation but on this they are being awkward.”

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Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike over smuggling fears

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Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike

The Indian Government has said it is considering taking action to slow the importation of gold into the country, but wants to avoid an increase in importation duties due to fears over smuggling.

A source told India’s PTI news agency that officials are instead considering alternative policy interventions to curb imports, which are having an adverse effect on the value of the rupee.

“There is not much scope for hike in import duty on gold,” the source said.

“Rather, it would be some kind of policy measures to reduce gold import. Higher import duty on gold may increase smuggling activities.”

While failing to specify the measures the Government is considering, the source said raising import duty on gold so close to the festive season would likely result in an increase in smuggling attempts.

Indian officials are due this week to announce a new list of items that will be subject to importation limits as part of wider efforts to cut the country’s growing current account deficit, and stem the fall of the rupee.

A comprehensive list of non-essential items are being considered, including steel, finished steel, furniture, electronics and a number of food items.

The smuggling of gold into India has rocketed over recent years after the Government hiked import duties to 10% in 2013 as part of an earlier effort to cut the country’s current account deficit.

According to the World Gold Council, traffickers smuggled some 120 tons of gold into India last year, with nearly the same amount expected in 2018.

In October last year, customs officers arrested 11 gold mules from Sri Lanka at Madurai Airport who were attempting to smuggle precious metal into the country concealed with their rectums.

Earlier this year, a cabin crew worker from Singapore Airlines was detained at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on suspicion of attempting to smuggle gold into the country.

After searching the flight steward, customs officers discovered gold weighing 1.05kg worth an estimated 3.1 million rupees ($50,000), according to the airport’s Joint Commissioner of Customs Anubha Singh.

Commenting at the time, a Singapore Airlines spokesperson confirmed that a member of its cabin crew staff had been detained by Delhi customs authorities, adding: “Singapore Airlines will provide full co-operation to the investigating authorities. We are unable to provide details of the crew member concerned due to confidentiality reasons.”

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