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European law enforcement agencies smash glass eel smuggling network

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3.4 tonnes of smuggled glass eels

A Europol-backed operation involving Portuguese and Spanish police has resulted in the disruption of an organised criminal network involved in the illegal export of glass eels to Asia.

Investigators arrested 10 members of the gang during Operation Elvers, which was part of a wider effort by Europol to crack down on and raise awareness of glass eel trafficking.

The gang, which is said to have operated out of Morocco and Portugal, reportedly raked in more than €37 million ($45.5 million) from smuggling hundreds of kilos of glass eels out of Europe to Asia, where the animals are a highly-sought after delicacy on account of their perceived aphrodisiac qualities.

In a statement, Europol said a series of raids resulted in the arrest of four Chinese nationals, three Spaniards and three Moroccans, and the recovery of 350kgs of live glass eels, which will be returned back to their natural habitat after being seized by police.

Police said the operation as a whole resulted in the seizure of 460kgs of glass eels in southern Spain.

It is alleged that gang members concealed their live cargo in suitcases or containers before smuggling them out of Spain via Portugal and Morocco to Asian countries including China, Hong Kong and South Korea.

Once trafficked out of Europe, infant eels are grown into adults before being sold to eateries and food suppliers, which are able to sell their meat at a high mark-up.

Asian glass eel traffickers routinely target the European species of the animal as domestic stocks in countries such as Japan are too low to meet local demand.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Sustainable Eel Group Chairman Andrew Kerr said “We have been waiting for this moment for some time.

“Whilst welcoming and congratulating the local police efforts, we emphasise that this shocking situation indicates a gross failure of control by [EU] member states and the European Commission.

“When are we going to see the determination to stop trafficking, in all countries?”

Kerr noted that more than 100 tons of glass eels are smuggled out of Europe every year, making it the largest form of wildlife crime on the continent.

In March last year, Europol announced that police in Greece and Spain had broken up a gang suspected of illegally smuggling tons of glass eels out of the EU to China.

The operation resulted in the arrested 17 suspected members of a trafficking network that made at least €5 million every year by shipping endangered eel breeds out of Europe.

Earlier that month, a man was stopped at London Heathrow Airport attempting to smuggle 600,000 endangered live eels worth an estimated £1.2 million ($1.7 million) to Hong Kong.

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ASEAN nations hit by data breaches, ransomware attacks and cryptojacking last year, Interpol says

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ASEAN nations hit by data breaches

Southeast Asia experienced “significant” levels of cyber crime in 2019, including major data breaches, crippling ransomware attacks and a huge rise in cryptojacking, according to a new report from Interpol.

In its ASEAN Cyberthreat Assessment 2020, the International law enforcement agency revealed that the region saw an increase in botnet detections and the hosting of Command and Control (C2) servers in the first half of last year.

Interpol also said phishing campaigns increased in both quantity and sophistication, using advanced social engineering techniques.

Data obtained by Interpol’s private partners for the report showed that the region suffered 5% of global business email compromise (BEC) attacks, with Singapore and Malaysia recording the highest BEC cases of all ASEAN countries (54% and 20%, respectively).

Over the first half of last year, Southeast Asia saw a 50% rise in banking malware attacks compared to the whole of 2018, with prominent malware families such as the Emotet16 banking Trojan shifting from banking credential theft to the distribution business.

Elsewhere, the increasing popularity of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin resulted in the rise of crypto-ransomware and cryptojacking, the latter of which involves hackers exploiting unsuspecting computer users’ processing power and bandwidth to mine virtual currency after infiltrating their systems using purpose-built malware.

The Interpol ASEAN Cybercrime Operations Desk concluded its report by vowing to enhance cyber crime intelligence for effective responses to cyber crime in the region, strengthen cooperation for joint operations against cyber crime, and develop regional capacity and capabilities to combat cyber crime.

Commenting on the contents of the report, Interpol’s Director of Cyber Crime Craig Jones said: “In today’s highly digitalised world, the sooner countries are aware of a threat, the sooner they can take steps to mitigate the risk and minimise the cyber threats coming from all directions.

“To this end, we encourage law enforcement in all countries to be actively engaged in collective efforts against these threats, particularly through sharing intelligence and the formulation of a joint operation framework to effectively reduce the global impact of cybercrime.”

In January, Interpol teamed up with several Southeast Asian law enforcement agencies to crack down on cryptojacking.

They used intelligence obtained from police and partners in the cyber security industry to identify a global cryptojacking campaign facilitated by hackers in the region through the exploitation of a vulnerability in MikroTik routers.

Interpol’s Operation Goldfish Alpha also sought to raise awareness of what is a relatively unknown crime in the region, and teach local law enforcement agencies how to deal with it effectively.

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Counterfeit rail ticket gang leaders jailed for total of 24 years by UK court

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counterfeit rail ticket gang leaders jailed

The ringleaders of a UK-based organised crime network behind a multimillion-pound fake rail ticket conspiracy have been handed jail sentences totalling 24 years at Inner London Crown Court.

Investigators from British Transport Police (BTP), which specialises in investigating crime committed on the UK’s railways and light-rail systems, began a probe that led to the arrest of the gang members after rail inspectors noticed the counterfeit tickets in circulation across London.

The gang sold the tickets, which appeared to be genuine and worked when used at ticket barriers at railway stations, at half the price of their face value.

Detectives estimate the gang cost rail companies approximately £8 million ($10.33 million) during the conspiracy, which is thought to have run from 2016 to 2019, and involved the sale of weekly and monthly rail season tickets.

BTP described the scam as a pyramid scheme, during which one ringleader, Manuel Da Costa Silva, would source large numbers of counterfeit tickets before passing them onto lower level distributers who would either sell them to customers or offload them in bulk to even lower level criminals.

The bogus tickets were manufactured by brothers Stefan and Sorin Covrig along with a third man named Ciprian Buda.

They used blank tickets, card readers, computer programs and printers to produce their illicit product.

During a police raid on their homes, investigators seized almost 60,000 blank tickets, which if printed with could have made the gang as much as £20 million.

Stefan Covrig was jailed for seven years and six months, while his brother Sorin was handed a sentence of four years and six months.

Buda was jailed for four years and six months, while Silva received seven years and six months after also being sentenced for money laundering.

Commenting after the men were jailed, Siwan Hayward, Director of Compliance and Policing at Transport for London, said: “Organised fraud like this is rare and we have robust controls in place to identify and stop illegal activity.

“Our team of 450 revenue inspectors operates across our network day and night and includes a specialist counterfeit ticket team who detected these fake National Rail tickets circulating on our network.

“This scam defrauded the public of millions of pounds that should have been invested in the transport network.

“We have a zero-tolerance approach to any fraud on our network and welcome the news that these criminals have been brought to justice.”

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International Organisation for Migration launches campaign against human trafficking in Sri Lanka

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human trafficking in Sri Lanka

The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has teamed up with the Sri Lankan government to launch a new initiative intended to help fight human trafficking on the South Asian island.

In partnership with Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Justice, Human Rights and Legal Reforms, the agency is running a public information campaign intended to encourage victims of human trafficking and forced labour to come forward and report crimes committed against them.

The initiative, which will include advertisements run on TV and radio, is also intended to educate members of the public so as they are better able to spot the signs of human trafficking and forced labour and report concerns of any such crimes to police.

IOM Sri Lanka, which has provided grants to more than 90 human trafficking victims and vulnerable migrants since 2017, said the majority of cases it deals with relate to forced labour in Middle East countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Oman.

Many Sri Lankan victims of human trafficking travel to such countries to seek work in the hospitality and domestic sectors.

The agency also highlighted cases in which men from Sri Lanka have suffered labour exploitation in Singapore and Malaysia in the construction industry, and one incident in which 12 Sri Lankan fishermen were trafficked to Somaliland.

Funded by the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, the campaign will also be advertised through street theatre and billboards.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, Anthony Renzulli, Chief Political Officer at the US Embassy in Colombo, said: “We must stop trafficking at its source and hold traffickers accountable; we must urge governments to implement their laws by building effective delivery systems of justice and protection; and we must proactively identify and provide needed services to survivors.

“If we are to accomplish all of these things, we must continue to refine our efforts and focus on impact.”

At the end of January, the Colombo Gazette reported that Pakistan had pledged to help Sri Lanka fight human trafficking and the illicit drug trade.

On a visit to Colombo, Pakistani Navy Commander Admiral Zafar Mahmood Abbasi said the two nations should boost existing cooperation on security issues and improve information sharing.

“Pakistan will assist to repair the Sri Lanka Navy’s hovercraft and also to develop a library at the proposed National Defence College,” he said.

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