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US anti-trafficking helpline reports increase in calls

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crackdown on modern slavery

US anti-slavery charity Polaris has announced that cases of human trafficking reported to its national hotline and SMS service rose by 13% last year, and that people who got in touch with the organisation complained of new forms of abuse.

Over the course of 2017, the charity dealt with 8,759 individual cases of human trafficking involving 10,615 victims and 4,863 possible traffickers.

The majority of calls (6,244) received by Polaris last year related to concerns that victims were being forced to sell sex against their will, while a much smaller number (1,274) related to suspected cases of forced labour.

One of the new forms of trafficking and modern slavery identified by the charity in 2017 involved children being forced to sell chocolate or beg on public streets.

Of the 10,615 victims of trafficking or modern slavery identified by Polaris last year, 8,561 were female, while 2,762 were children.

Victims of sex trafficking were most likely to have been recruited into prostitution by an intimate partner, the data showed, while those forced to work for low or no pay were most commonly duped by the offer a legitimate employment offer.

The top five risk factors identified by Polaris among victims of human trafficking last year were recent migration to the US, substance abuse, youth homelessness, mental health issues and involvement in the child welfare system.

Last year’s data also revealed that trafficking victims who managed to escape their captors most commonly made their first step towards doing so by seeking the help and support of family or friends.

In a fact sheet outlining its data, Polaris said: “Traffickers frequently prey on an individual’s vulnerabilities, and the data spotlights factors that may have placed these victims at risk as well as the variety of tactics used to recruit and trap them in a trafficking situation.”

Commenting on last year’s data, Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris, said: “The national human trafficking hotline is identifying and helping more survivors than ever, all while handling the highest case volume yet.

“This is a testament to the network of dedicated service providers, trained law enforcement, and survivor advocates working across America to help survivors restore their freedom, but the increasing caseload also indicates how far we still have to go to ensure human trafficking no longer thrives as a lucrative business.

“Through this data, we can illuminate human trafficking trends and identify the pressure points and areas for intervention in various networks to better target efforts and disrupt what is still perceived by traffickers as a low-risk crime.”

Polaris says that its national human trafficking hotline receives and average of 100 calls a day, and has dealt with a total of 40,987 cases since it was opened in 2007.

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe, new study reveals

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Scotland is drug death capital of Europe

Scotland has the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe, and fatalities linked to the consumption of substances such as heron in the country are on the rise, according to a new report from a government agency.

A statistical update from Audit Scotland on the nation’s drug and alcohol services has revealed that drug-related deaths rose to 934 in 2017, a 71% increase on the 525 people who lost their lives as a consequence of drug consumption in 2009.

Seventy-six percent of those deaths occurred in the 35 years and over age group, suggesting that drug problems are increasingly affecting older people in Scotland.

The most significant increase in drug-related deaths in this age category was recorded in people aged 45 and over, who accounted for 37% of fatalities in 2017, up from 20% of the total in 2009.

According to the update, opioids are the most problematic group of drugs, and are implicated in the majority of drug-related deaths in the country.

The study also found that while use of new psychoactive substances such as the synthetic cannabinoid Spice has declined in the general population since the introduction of the UK government’s Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, these types of drugs are still causing significant harm among vulnerable groups such as prisoners.

Commenting on the findings outlined in the update, Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: “The last decade has seen several notable achievements in drug and alcohol treatment in Scotland, including more recovery communities, improved drug harm reduction strategies and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.

“But without clear performance data around what measures are working, the government will continue to find it hard to achieve its aim of reducing deaths and better supporting people to recover.”

Earlier this week, the Press Association reported that former addicts had told UK Parliament’s Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that providing users of drugs such as heroin with replacement treatments such as methadone is leaving them wandering around “like zombies”.

Former heroin addict Sharon Brand, who now runs the Recovery Dundee charity, told the committee: “There’s people who have been on methadone since they were 15, 30 years now, there’s two generations in each family who are either on methadone or a chaotic user.

“I’ve not got a great opinion of methadone. I think done right, for a very short period, it could work but I think there are a lot more and better ways to help somebody get past that stage.”

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European police forces dismantle major organised crime network that made €680 million in two years

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crime network that made €680 million

A Europol-coordinated operation involving law enforcement agencies from the UK, Spain, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia has resulted in the break-up of a sophisticated organised criminal network that is thought to have raked in hundreds of millions of euros over a two-year period.

The gang, which is said to have been made of Lithuanian nationals and members from other EU countries, made huge profits from activities including drug smuggling, cigarette trafficking, assassinations and money laundering.

Police taking part in the operation, which was codenamed Icebreaker, and is reported to have been the largest of its kind to take place in Europe to date, carried out raids on 40 properties in Poland, Lithuania and Spain, during which €8 million ($8.94 million) in cash was seized, along with high-value items including diamonds, gold bars, jewellery and luxury vehicles.

During the raids, which were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday last week, a total of 22 suspects were arrested in the UK, Poland, Lithuania and Spain, where a 48-year-old Lithuanian man was detained on suspicion of leading the network.

Investigators estimate that the gang made a profit of some €680 million as a result of its illicit activities between 2017 and 2019 alone, during which time its members are suspected to have trafficked large quantities of drugs and illicit tobacco into Britain.

The proceeds of the network’s criminal activity was laundered through currency exchange offices before being invested in properties in Spain and other countries.

According to Europol, senior members of the gang used counter-surveillance and counter-intelligence techniques, as well as specialised encrypted communication devices, in a bid to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities.

In total, more than 450 police and customs officers took part in Operation Icebreaker, with agencies contributing to the effort including Lithuania’s Criminal Police Bureau, the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Polish Police Central Bureau of Investigation, and Spain’s Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional.

In a statement, Europol said: “The creation of an Operational Task Force between all five countries and Europol in November 2018 had a catalytic effect on the scale and the intensity of the investigation, facilitating the development of a joint strategy to target the whole network. It led to carrying out one of the largest covert police operations recently against an organized crime group.

“Due to the demanding investigative measures run on an international level, Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) were set up between the cooperating countries with the assistance of Eurojust.”

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Australian terrorist financing investigation results in disruption of major cigarette smuggling conspiracy

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cigarette smuggling conspiracy

An investigation into terrorist financing conducted by law enforcement agencies in Australia has led to the arrest of eight men on suspicion of involvement in an illicit cigarette importation conspiracy run from Sydney.

The counter-terrorism operation that resulted in the men’s detention, which involved officers from the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force’s Terrorism Investigation Squad, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Australian Border Force (ABF)-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, resulted in the identification of an organised criminal gang involved in the importation of illicit tobacco, drug trafficking and money laundering.

In a statement, NSW Police said three suspects were detained on Tuesday at Sydney Olympic Park, where one man was found by officers to be carrying A$12,000 ($8,245) in cash.

After those arrests, investigators carried out a series of raids on domestic properties, business premises and storage units across Sydney’s south-west, resulting in the seizure of illicit tobacco, A$50,000 in cash and a range of luxury items, including designer watches, jewellery and handbags.

During the raids, a further six suspects were detained, and were later charged with a number of offences including membership of a criminal organisation, tobacco smuggling, money laundering and the criminal possession of more than 500kgs of tobacco.

Police believe members of the gang were responsible for the importation and sale of more than seven tonnes of illicit tobacco products, estimated to be worth in excess of A$1.8 million.

Commenting on the success of the operation, ABF Acting Regional Commander for NSW Garry Low said: “We know illicit tobacco is an attractive market for criminal syndicates due to the lucrative profits that can be made in evaded tax, and as we can see here, the profits are often channelled back into organised crime.

“Illicit tobacco costs Australia about A$600 million a year in lost revenue. The ABF, working with our law enforcement partners, will continue to do everything we can to crack down on this black market, the criminals involved in it, and prevent illicit profits being channelled back into other criminal activities.”

In May of last year, lawmakers in Australia launched a crackdown on the sale of illicit tobacco that they claimed would raise some A$3.6 billion over a four-year period.

The Australian government said the initiative was intended to prevent the sale of 864 tonnes of illicit tobacco that is estimated to slip past the country’s customs officers every year.

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