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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According to a statement issued by the European Central Bank (ECB), 363,000 counterfeit euro banknotes were withdrawn from circulation in the second half of 2017.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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Woman carrying cannabis bricks in bogus baby belly arrested by Argentine police

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Law enforcement officers in Argentina have arrested a woman close to the South American country’s border with Chile for attempting to smuggle cannabis concealed inside a fake baby bump.

The woman was searched after police discovered that her travelling companion was in possession of a smaller quantity of cannabis while the pair were on a long-distance coach journey from the city of Mendoza to Caleta Olivia in province of Santa Cruz.

After stopping the pair at a police checkpoint in Valle de Uco close to Mendoza, police found that the woman had hidden 15 packages of cannabis in her bogus baby bump.

The man with whom she was travelling was discovered to be in possession of two packages of the drug in his hand luggage.

Police stopped the pair while conducting routine checks on passengers using the coach route.

In total, the woman and the man were found to be carrying in excess of 4.5kgs of cannabis.

The improvised fake pregnancy bump was held together with a starch-based paste and secured to the woman’s stomach to make it appear as though she was with child.

Posting a picture of the fake baby belly on Twitter, Argentine security minister Patricia Bullrich told her followers: “She made a belly with glue, and hid 15 packages of marijuana inside it while pretending to be pregnant and attempted to move it from Mendoza to Santa Cruz .

“Police arrested the false pregnant woman and her accomplice, preventing her from trafficking the drugs she was carrying.”

In a statement, Argentine police said: “While carrying out control checks, officers stopped a group travelling from Mendoza to Caleta Olivia.

“During the inspection, police observed that a passenger was carrying a black bag that contained two brick-like packages.

“Continuing with their inspection, officers came across a young woman who had a lump in her belly, pretending to be pregnant.

“The two passengers were asked to get off the bus and were later arrested.”

In September 2013, the BBC reported that police in Colombia had arrested a Canadian woman when she attempted to board a flight to Toronto while wearing a fake baby belly that was filled with cocaine.

Police said the woman was searched after she became agitated when asked by a customs officer how far along she was with her pregnancy.

She was found be carrying two sealed bags that contained 2kgs of cocaine.

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Lithuanian and Spanish police smash violent sex trafficking gang that forced scores of women to work as prostitutes

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Lithuanian and Spanish police smash violent sex trafficking gang

A joint operation carried out by law enforcement agencies from Lithuania and Spain has resulted in the break-up of an organised crime network that trafficked women for the purposes of prostitution.

In a day of action coordinated by investigators from both countries, and supported by Europol and Eurojust, 50 searches were conducted at several locations across the two nations, resulting in the seizure of a quantity of cash, drugs, counterfeit documents, weapons and ammunition.

The operation also saw the detention of two leaders of the criminal network in Spain, the arrest of 13 suspected members of the gang in Lithuania, and the identification of 118 suspected trafficking victims from a number of countries including Ukraine and Belarus.

In a statement, Lietuvos Policija said the effort was the result of a two-year investigation into the illegal activities of the trafficking network, which is said to have used extreme violence to force victims to work as prostitutes in Lithuania.

Those arrested are said to have previously been convicted of a range of offences, including robbery, human trafficking, profiting from prostitution, and criminal damage.

All of those held, who were taken into custody where they are currently awaiting trail, have had their assets temporarily frozen.

“Europol supported the investigation by providing coordination and analytical support since the early stages of the joint investigation in 2018,” Europol said.

“Europol supported the action day by providing on-the-spot technical and analytical support in Lithuania and Spain, and by activating the virtual command post to speed up operational information exchange.

“Europol also deployed experts to Lithuania to cross-check operational information in real-time against Europol’s databases.”

Last week, four members of an eastern European sex trafficking gang were jailed for a total of over 36 years for smuggling Slovakian women to Scotland and forcing them into sham marriages, slavery or prostitution.

Vojtech Gombar, Anil Wagle, Jana Sandorova and Ratislav Adam were convicted in October of what the High Court in Edinburgh was told were “utterly repugnant” crimes.

Back in February, a pair of brothers from Romania who trafficked women into Spain before forcing them to work as prostitutes were handed jail terms totalling 108 years.

A Spanish court heard Cristian and Sebastián Sandulache, who were said to have made as much as €11,000 ($12,096) a night by forcing their victims to sell sex, inserted metal balls into their penises in order to cause maximum pain to their rape victims.

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Dutch trucker charged with drug trafficking after UK customs find huge haul of cocaine wrapped in frozen meat

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Officers from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) have charged a Dutch truck driver with attempting to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated £20 million ($25.7 million) into Britain while it was hidden in frozen meat.

The agency, which is often referred to as the UK’s equivalent of the FBI, launched an investigation after customs officers stopped the driver’s truck when it arrived at Harwich International Port in Essex on a ferry from the Hook of Holland on Monday.

While inspecting the load the truck was carrying, investigators discovered multiple packages containing a total of over 200kgs of cocaine that had been wrapped in frozen meat.

The driver, named as 48-year-old Robert Tromp from the Netherlands, was charged with an importation offence, and appeared before Colchester magistrates on Tuesday, where he was remanded in custody until his next appearance at Chelmsford Crown Court on 12 December.

Commenting on Tromp’s arrest, NCA Branch Commander Jacque Beer said: “While forensic checks are still being carried out on this seizure, it is likely that the total haul would have had a street value in excess of £20 million once cut and sold at a street purity level.

“Our investigation into those responsible is continuing, but we can say that this will have put a big dent in the profits of the criminal network likely to be behind it and caused them substantial disruption.

“The illicit drug trade is a key driver behind the gang violence and exploitation we see on UK streets, which is why we, along with partners like Border Force, are determined to do all we can to stop drugs at source and protect the public. This was an excellent detection by our Border Force colleagues.”

Drug traffickers routinely hide their illicit shipments in consignments of food, not least on account of the fact that perishable goods are often fast-tracked through customs checks.

At the end of last month, two drug traffickers from the Netherlands were jailed for a total of more than 11 years by a UK court for attempting to smuggle more than half a tonne of cannabis into Britain by hiding it in consignments of grated pizza cheese and salad.

Dominic Leema and Henrik Ruben were caught after trying to smuggle the drugs through the port of Dover in the south of England, and were said to have been part of a wider organised crime network that used an industrial estate unit to extract the cannabis from the cheese.

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