Enjoying her first real bounce in the polls since her embarrassing performance during last year’s UK general election, Prime Minister Theresa May’s tough stance on Russia in the wake of the nerve agent attack on former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter has been well received by British voters. An Opinium poll conducted on behalf of the Observer this weekend revealed that the overwhelming majority of the British public back May to deal with the scandal over Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who has attracted criticism from members of his own party for failing to blame the Kremlin for the attack. Having swiftly made clear that the UK holds the Russian government responsible for the attempted murder of the Skripals on British soil, May put forward a number of measures designed to apply pressure to Vladimir Putin’s regime, including the passing of emergency legislation that would allow UK authorities to seize the assets of Russians who launder dirty money in Britain, and the targeting of the finances of Russian oligarchs living in the country.
While the UK government’s retaliatory plans against Moscow sound perfectly sensible, it has to be asked why Russian crooks and oligarchs have been allowed to use Britain, and particularly London, as a safe haven for their dirty money for so long, and whether anything will really change once the dust settles on the Skripal affair. For years now, authorities in the UK have turned a blind eye to where wealthy Russians living in Britain get their money from, looking the other way as highly-questionable characters bought up prime real estate, sent their children to some of the finest fee-paying schools in the country, and acquired shares in Premier League football clubs. Much in the same way that few things changed after the poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko in London over a decade ago, it seems unlikely that the status quo will be interrupted in any serious manner once the current flurry of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions peters out after the Skripals drop off the front pages, as they inevitably will.
The pernicious influence wealthy Russians have in the UK has become so deeply ingrained in the British public psyche that it has recently been successfully reflected in popular culture. At the beginning of the year, the BBC screened an eight-part drama series centred on the lives of a wealthy London-based Russian family involved in high-level organised crime. While the book on which McMafia was based was said to have been inspired by real events, a number of commentators remarked on how true to life the TV adaptation was, observing that the family it depicted was not dissimilar to some of those who had left Russia to set up home in the UK. Referencing McMafia while announcing a new UK government crackdown on crooked oligarchs based in Britain last month, Security Minister Ben Wallace told the Times that “fact is ahead of fiction”, and that while the series was an accurate portrayal of organised crime linked to Russia in the UK capital, reality is much more brutal. Wallace was unveiling new unexplained wealth orders (UWOs), a new legal tool that requires individuals to account for the source of any assets worth more than £50,000. The orders allow UK authorities to seize any assets until the money that was used to pay for them can be accounted for. The legislation was drafted with corrupt Russians in mind.
As with the retaliatory measures May announced in the aftermath of the Skripals’ poisoning, it remains to be seen whether UWOs will have any real impact on the rivers of dirty Russian money that flow into Britain every year. Speaking with the London Evening Standard as the fallout from the Salisbury nerve agent attack rumbled on last week, an executive from the National Crime Agency (NCA), the UK’s equivalent of the FBI, said only a handful of Russian oligarchs could be targeted with the orders. Donald Toon, Director of the NCA’s economic crime and cyber crime unit, said: “Under current circumstances, I cannot see significant numbers of unexplained wealth orders being used against Russians. It’s all about being able to set out for the court whether there is enough evidence to justify an order,”
Some have suggested that the Skripal affair could be May’s “Falklands’ moment”, referring to the way in which Margaret Thatcher used the 1982 conflict with Argentina over the islands to turn around her waning popularity. It may well be the case that May is able to use the current standoff with Russia over the Skripal affair to her advantage, but as has been the case after previous diplomatic spats between the two nations, it remains highly unlikely that wealthy Russians living in Britain will face any real new pressure from the UK government. Much like the UWOs announced by Wallace at the beginning of last month, any new measures targeting Russians living in the UK unveiled by Britain in the wake of the Skripal poisoning will most likely come to nothing. Once the current furore has blown over, ordinary service will be resumed, allowing crooked Russian gangsters to continue to using the UK as their money laundering location of choice.
Crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system to con buyers into purchasing bogus and dangerous items
Buyers on eBay are being duped into purchasing substandard and counterfeit products due to a flaw in the online auction platform’s seller feedback system, according to an investigation conducted by UK consumer group Which?
The watchdog found that dishonest vendors can take advantage of these flaws by linking positive reviews of genuine products manufactured by companies such as Apple and Samsung to fake and low-quality items.
Which? found that crooked sellers are able to link thousands of positive reviews to eBay listings they have nothing to do with.
The organisation discovered that real reviews can be associated with fake products that are potentially dangerous, such as counterfeit mobile phone chargers that can pose a fire risk.
Sellers are able to do this by using “product IDs” associated with genuine items when adding their products to eBay, subsequently benefitting from the positive reviews those items have attracted.
The system is intended to make the process of listing products on eBay quicker and easier by allowing sellers to pull information from similar items that have a linked product ID.
As part of its investigation, Which? purchased 20 bogus Apple and Samsung accessories such as chargers and USB cables that were supposed to be official and shared the same reviews as products manufactured by the two technology firms
Calling for online ecommerce platforms to be held accountable for flaws in their seller feedback systems that allow dishonest vendors to pull the wool over buyers’ eyes, Head of Home Products and Services at Which? Natalie Hitchins said: “Our investigation has uncovered yet another example of online reviews being manipulated to mislead people.
“eBay’s product review system is confusing for consumers and could even direct them towards counterfeit or dangerous products sold by unscrupulous sellers.
“Online reviews influence billions of pounds of consumer spending each year.
“The [UK Competition and Markets Authority] must now investigate how fake and misleading reviews are duping online shoppers, taking the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle the problem.”
Responding to the findings of Which?’s investigation eBay said in a statement: “The research does not fully consider that there are distinctions between product reviews (which provide buyers with a holistic review of the same product), and seller feedback (which can be used to see specific reviews of a seller’s performance and may reflect the item’s condition).”
Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that US politicians had called on lawmakers to hold ecommerce companies such as eBay and Amazon to account if they fail to prevent third-party vendors selling counterfeit or substandard products on their platforms.
Major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang broken up by coalition of European law enforcement agencies
A Romanian human trafficking and prostitution network that used the “lover boy” method to entrap young women before forcing them into sex work has been broken up a coalition of European law enforcement agencies.
The lover boy method, also known as the “Romeo pimp” method, involves young men seducing victims with the objective of coercing them into prostitution.
Lover boy traffickers groom their victims to believe they have entered into a serious romantic relationship before using emotional, psychological and sometimes physical abuse to intimidate them into working in the sex services industry.
Investigators from Spain, Romania, the Czech Republic and several other European nations were involved in the operation that resulted in the dismantling of the gang, which is said to have groomed and exploited at least 10 young women by forcing them to work as prostitutes.
The operation resulted in the arrest of 14 people in Romania and Spain, the safeguarding of 10 trafficking victims, and the confiscation of a number of items, including a quantity of cash, jewellery, expensive vehicles and several electronic devices.
In total, the agencies taking part in the effort raided 16 properties in the Czech Republic, Romania and Spain.
Having groomed their victims, Romanian members of the network would develop manipulative dependent relationships with the young women they targeted before forcing them into sex work.
Once under the traffickers’ control, victims would be abused and drugged before being sold onto other members of the network for as much as €6,000 ($6,632) each.
The women would then be moved between locations and countries on a regular basis as part of the gang’s efforts to avoid the attention of police.
Profits made by the network were laundered through the purchase of property, expensive jewellery and high-value cars.
Ongoing investigations into the network’s activities are focussed on the theory that it was working in cooperation with another gang.
Enquires have already resulted in the identification of more than 40 additional women who fell victim to the two criminal organisations.
In a statement, Europol said: “Europol facilitated the information exchange between the participating countries, provided coordination support and analysed operational information against Europol’s databases to give leads to investigators.
“Europol conducted a financial analysis based on the information provided which highlighted the extension of the criminal activity of the group and the presence and flow of illicit profits to other jurisdictions.”
Taking cocaine will not cure people struck down with the coronavirus, French government warns public
Authorities in France have been forced to inform the public that taking cocaine will not cure people infected with the coronavirus.
Taking to Twitter on Sunday, the French Ministry for Solidarity and Health told its followers that cocaine is not only ineffective when it comes to fighting the coronavirus, but is also a highly addictive drug that can cause serious harm to users’ health.
The government department was seeking to counter fake news circulating on social media that taking the drug could cure or prevent the virus, including doctored news stories that appeared to confirm the drug’s effectiveness at fighting the disease.
The ministry’s Twitter post included a link to a government information page that provided further guidance on disinformation circulating about the coronavirus outbreak.
As well as encouraging those worried about the coronavirus to start taking cocaine, online trolls have also suggested that bleach can also help fight the disease.
In a post on Twitter that has attracted many thousands of engagements, @Jordan_Sather_ told his followers: “Would you look at that. Not only is chlorine dioxide (aka ‘MMS’) an effective cancer cell killer, it can wipe out coronavirus too.
“No wonder YouTube has been censoring basically every single video where I discuss it over the last year.”
In August of 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about that dangers of consuming bleach, noting: “Drinking any… chlorine dioxide products can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and symptoms of severe dehydration.”
As well as warning about cocaine’s inability to fight the coronavirus, the French government has also told members of the public that spraying bleach or alcohol on their bodies will not neutralise viruses they have already been infected with.
Elsewhere, US Vodka maker Tito’s Homemade was last week forced to urge people not to make DIY hand sanitiser out of its products.
Responding to one of its customers who said they had done just that, the company said on Twitter: “Per the CDC [Centres for Disease Control and Prevention], hand sanitizer needs to contain at least 60% alcohol. Tito’s Handmade Vodka is 40% alcohol, and therefore does not meet the current recommendation of the CDC. Please see attached for more information.”
For its part, the World Health Organisation, which today officially categorised the coronavirus as a pandemic, has published a webpage dispelling misinformation about the disease, noting that the virus cannot be killed of avoided by taking a hot bath or using hand dryers.
- Crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system to con buyers into purchasing bogus and dangerous items
- Major ‘lover boy’ prostitution gang broken up by coalition of European law enforcement agencies
- Taking cocaine will not cure people struck down with the coronavirus, French government warns public
- US politicians call for state action against Pornhub over allegations it hosted rape and child abuse videos
- Californian border officers catch Mexican man with enough fentanyl to kill 1.2 million people