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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According to a statement issued by the European Central Bank (ECB), 363,000 counterfeit euro banknotes were withdrawn from circulation in the second half of 2017.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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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants accused of helping drugs gang smuggle heroin and crystal meth

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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants

Two flight attendants working for Malaysian airline Malindo Air were among eight people arrested by police in Australia over the past two weeks during an investigation into an organised crime network suspected to be behind the importation of heroin and methamphetamine worth an estimated A$20 million ($14.35 million) into the country.

The two cabin crew members are suspected of having links to a Melbourne-based Vietnamese gang involved in the importation of high-purity heroin and methamphetamine into Australia from Malaysia.

In a series of raids on a number of properties in Melbourne that resulted in the arrest of the suspects, investigators from a coalition of Australian law enforcement agencies seized 6kgs of high-grade heroin with an estimated street value of A$14.5 million, and 8kgs of methamphetamine with a street value of $6.4 million.

Police also confiscated 0.5kgs of cocaine, assorted drug paraphernalia, a large quantity of cash, and a number of cars, including a Porsche Macan.

Six of the suspects were remanded into custody after appearing before Melbourne Magistrates Court, where they were charged with a multiple offences including importing a marketable quantity of border controlled drugs, and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Malindo Air, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s Lion Air, said it had suspended one of the cabin crew members with immediate effect pending termination.

In a statement, the company said: “Malindo Air stands ready to co-operate with all the relevant authorities be it in Australia or in Malaysia in this regard…

“As a responsible international air carrier, Malindo Air does not condone any act that is criminal in nature or misconduct by our personnel.”

Congratulating the officers who took part in the operation, Victoria Police Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh said its success sent a strong message that Australian law enforcement agencies remain focused on disrupting major drug trafficking conspiracies.

“This was a well organised syndicate we know had operated across Australia undetected for many years,” she said.

“To be in a position to make these arrests and dismantle this group is a significant win for both police and the Victorian community.

“The amount of heroin alone involved in this investigation amounts to almost fifty thousand hits in real terms.

“We know the harm that drugs bring – not just the physical and health impacts on users, but the negative flow on effects to the broader community such as property crime, assaults and drug driving.”

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Police in Belgium and Portugal dismantle organised crime gang behind sham marriage conspiracy

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Law enforcement agencies in Belgium and Portugal have broken up an organised criminal gang that paid mostly Portuguese women to enter into sham marriages with Pakistani men.

In an operation supported by Europol and Eurojust, investigators today arrested 17 suspects in Belgium and a further three in Portugal in a series of coordinated raids.

The gang is said to have paid the women thousands of euros to marry the men, who were looking to illegally secure the right to live and work in the EU.

After being married in Portugal, the couples would travel to Belgium, where the wives would be employed by suspected bogus Belgian firms.

The gang would then arrange for the husbands to buy shares in the companies their sham wives worked for, allowing them the right to remain in the EU and apply for residency.

After doing so, the Pakistani men were then able to apply for social security benefits.

Once each sham marriage had been established, the women would typically return to Portugal after being paid, returning to Belgium occasionally as and when required to complete any necessary immigration or police checks.

Belgian authorities were first alerted to the scam back in 2015 when local officials became aware of an unusual rise in the number of mixed marriage certificates being issued in Ypres, a city in the Flemish province of West Flanders.

A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was established due to the international nature of the conspiracy, which culminated in today’s raids in Ypres and Brussels in Belgium, as well as in Lisbon and Algarve in Portugal.

Officers from each country took part in the day of action in both Portugal and Belgium.

Raids on 18 properties in Belgium resulted in the discovery of 43 irregular migrants, who were mostly of Pakistani origin, as well as the seizure of counterfeit documents and mobile devices.

Meanwhile in Portugal, police detained three suspects during searches of nine properties, during which laptops, desktops and other mobile devices were confiscated.

In a statement, Europe’s law enforcement agency said: “Europol supported the joint operation on-the-spot.

“Analysts were deployed to Belgium and Portugal for real-time information cross-checks and mobile phone forensics.

“This coordinated international cooperation proved very useful in the dismantling of this criminal network.”

In August last year, a similar Europol-backed operation resulted in the arrest in Romania and Poland of five members of a gang suspected of smuggling Indian and Nepali nationals into the EU through sham marriages.

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Trudeau slams death sentence for Canadian man convicted of smuggling methamphetamine in China

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A Canadian national has been sentenced to death in China after being convicted of plotting to smuggle a large quantity of methamphetamine out of the country.

In a development that has led to a further souring of relations between the two countries, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg on Monday fell afoul of China’s super-strict drugs laws when an appeal court ruled that his original 15-year jail sentence had been too lenient, and that he must now be put to death.

The Canadian national, who is thought to be aged 36, was arrested in 2014 on suspicion of plotting to smuggle nearly 227kgs of methamphetamine from China to Australia.

Prosecutors argued that Schellenberg and an accomplice bought tyres to use to repackage the drugs before shipping them out of the country in containers.

Schellenberg’s new sentence comes after Ottawa and Beijing came to blows when Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, at the beginning of December.

Meng is currently fighting extradition to the US in relation to allegations that she violated sanctions on Iran.

Following her detention, Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested in China on suspicion of endangering national security, prompting concerns that Beijing might be using its legal system to bargain for Meng’s release.

Commenting on the new sentence handed down to Schellenberg, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said all countries should be concerned about the manner in which China is behaving, adding: “It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply the death penalty, as in this case facing a Canadian.”

Schellenberg now has 10 days in which to appeal his sentence.

Reports relating to his case started to appear in Chinese media following Meng’s arrest, leading to his original sentence being upgraded on the grounds that it was not severe enough.

While the court said the new sentence could not be commuted, commentators have suggested that Schellenberg will now be used as bargaining chip as the Chinese government negotiates to secure Meng’s freedom.

In a travel warning issued in response to the appeal court’s decision, the Canadian foreign ministry cautioned its citizens in China over “the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws”.

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