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Feds take down Backpage.com and charge founders with prostitution and money laundering

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feds take down Backpage.com

US authorities have closed down a classified listings website that had been repeatedly accused of facilitating sex trafficking and charged its founders with a number of prostitution and money laundering offences.

An indictment against Backpage.com creators Michael Lacey and James Larkin and five members of the website’s staff has been made public after it was taken offline and its servers seized on Friday.

Backpage.com, which is said to have raked in more than $500 million from listings linked to illegal sex work and laundered its profits through non-related businesses, had previously shut down the adult section of its US site, but critics said sex-related adverts were simply moved to other pages.

Visitors to the US version of the site are now greeted with a massage explaining that its serves have been seized as part of an enforcement action by the FBI, the US Postal Inspection Service and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division.

In a statement, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said: “For far too long, Backpage.com existed as the dominant marketplace for illicit commercial sex, a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike.

“But this illegality stops right now. Last Friday, the Department of Justice seized Backpage, and it can no longer be used by criminals to promote and facilitate human trafficking.”

Campaigners and sex trafficking advocacy groups have long called for allegations that the site was routinely used to facilitate forced prostitution to be probed.

Prosecutors argue that while the site’s founders and the members of its staff who face charges were not directly involved in commercial sex exploitation, they were aware that the overwhelming majority of the listings on its sites were related to the services of prostitutes.

While some activists have welcomed the move, others have voiced concern that shutting down websites and forums such as Backpage.com could put sex workers in greater danger by removing a safe way for them to communicate with existing and potential clients.

“The shutting down of #Backpage is an absolute crisis for sex workers who rely on the site to safely get in touch with clients,” the official Twitter account for the Women’s march movement tweeted on Saturday. “Sex workers rights are women’s rights.”

Towards the end of last month, Craigslist banned personal listings after the US government introduced new legalisation making online publishers responsible for the promotion of prostitution and sex trafficking.

The Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) amends the US Communications Decency Act by specifically allowing criminal and civil actions against a website if its conduct violates federal sex trafficking laws.

In a statement, Craigslist said: “US Congress just passed HR 1865, ‘FOSTA’, seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.

“Any tool or service can be misused. We can’t take such risk without jeopardising all our other services, so we are regretfully taking Craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.”

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Colombian man caught with half kilo of cocaine under wig at Barcelona airport

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cocaine under wig

Police working at Barcelona’s El Prat international airport have arrested a man who was found to have half a kilo of cocaine concealed beneath an ill-fitting hairpiece.

Officers spotted the man after he arrived on a flight from the Colombian capital of Bogota.

They noticed that he was acting in a nervous manner and appeared to be sporting a disproportionately large hairpiece under a hat.

After taking him to one side for a search, investigators discovered a package of white powder that had been stuck to the man’s head underneath the outsized toupee.

The 65-year-old was arrested immediately, and was later charged after tests confirmed that the white powder was cocaine that was estimated to be worth €30,000 ($33,390).

In one photograph released by Spain’s national police force, the man can be seen from the side wearing a wig that protrudes to an unnatural height over the top of his head.

Another shot taken from the front shows the package of cocaine clearly visible beneath the hairpiece.

In a statement cited by the Reuters news agency, Spanish police said: “There is no limit to the inventiveness of drug traffickers trying to mock controls.”

Spain, which is one of the main entry points for cocaine exported into Europe from Colombia, has seen several novel large-scale smuggling attempts over the course of the past year, the majority of which appeared to have benefitted from better planning than the wig conspiracy.

Back in June, Spanish police revealed they had arrested 11 suspected traffickers after discovering a tonne of cocaine hidden inside fake stones shipped into the country from South America.

Investigators released a video that showed officers smashing open the bogus stones to discover 785 packages of cocaine, each of which was estimated to contain more than 1kg of the drug.

Just weeks earlier, police in the country announced they had smashed a South American organised trafficking network that injected large quantities of cocaine into plastic pellets before smuggling them to three specialist laboratories in Madrid and Toledo, where the drugs would be extracted by experts who had been flown in from Colombia.

Last August, Spanish investigators intercepted 67kgs of cocaine that had been concealed inside pineapple skins.

The gang behind the plot had hollowed out fresh pineapples before filling their skins with cylinders containing as much as 7kgs of cocaine each.

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Wildlife trade NGO TRAFFIC holds two-day workshop intended to improve animal crime conviction rates across India

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Wildlife trade NGO TRAFFIC holds two-day workshop

Illicit animal trade monitoring network TRAFFIC has helped organise a two-day conference in India intended to help local law enforcement officials improve wildlife crime conviction rates.

Held in cooperation with WWF-India, the Maharashtra Judiciary Academy and the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (Life), the event was designed to improve the knowledge of police officers responsible for wildlife crime in Maharashtra, Goa and Daman.

Dr Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India office, said: “For any law in force, it is often not only the level of punishment but the surety of timely conviction, which act as crime deterrents.

“Proper orientation of judicial officers will ensure better implementation of wildlife, forest and environmental laws and help in controlling the crime.”

Commenting on efforts to crack down on wildlife crime in his region, Justice BP Dharmadhikari, Director of the Maharashtra Judicial Academy, said: “Over a period of time, Maharashtra has taken steps and passed several resolutions in the prevailing legal systems to protect and better manage the environment and forests.

“Most of the judges present may be dealing with such cases—therefore this orientation programme is very apt, timely and necessary.”

It was revealed earlier this month that a global crackdown on wildlife crime coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) resulted in law enforcement officials in India making several seizures.

As part of the operation, Indian investigators discovered an infant langur that had been smuggled into the country from Bangladesh.

Elsewhere, the Indian Wildlife Crime Control Bureau seized a lesser flamingo from a pet shop, as well as live parakeets and munias during road checkpoint inspections.

The bureau was also involved in the discovery a smuggled lion cub that had been brought into the country from Bangladesh, and was scheduled for onward trafficking to the UK.

Back in February of this year, border inspectors working at India’s Chennai Airport in the state of Tamil Nadu stopped a man who was attempting to smuggle a weeks-old leopard cub into the country concealed inside his suitcase.

The man, who had arrived on a flight from Bangkok, was stopped when customs officials observed him behaving strangely while attempting to leave the terminal building, and then heard faint whimpering emanating from his luggage.

Indian and Burmese officials last year agreed at a bilateral summit to work more closely together to fight wildlife smuggling and drug trafficking on the border between the two countries.

In a statement issued last October, officials said: “It was… agreed to cooperate in preventing smuggling of wildlife and narcotic drugs and to strengthen cooperation on the international border management.”

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Police in US warn against flushing drugs down toilet through fear of creating ‘meth gators’

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meth gators

US police have warned members of the public against flushing their methamphetamine stashes down the toilet in order to avoid creating what they describe as “meth gators”.

In a post that has now been taken down from its Facebook page, Loretto Police Department in Tennessee described an incident during which its officers caught a suspected drug dealer attempting to dispose of 12 grams of crystal methamphetamine and more than 700 millilitres of the liquid form of the drug by flushing it down his lavatory over the weekend.

After describing how officers charged the man with possession of drugs with intent to supply and tampering with evidence, the force cautioned against disposing of illegal drugs down toilets, noting how doing so could have an adverse effect on wildlife.

“This Folks… please don’t flush your drugs m’kay (sic). When you send something down the sewer pipe it ends up in our retention ponds for processing before it is sent down stream,” the post read.

“Now our sewer guys take great pride in releasing water that is cleaner than what is in the creek, but they are not really prepared for meth.

“Ducks, Geese, and other fowl frequent our treatment ponds and we shudder to think what one all hyped up on meth would do.

“Furthermore, if it made it far enough we could create meth gators in Shoal Creek and the Tennessee River down in North Alabama. They’ve had enough meth-ed up animals the past few weeks without our help.

“So, if you need to dispose of your drugs just give us a call and we will make sure they are disposed of in the proper way.”

While the effect drugs such as methamphetamine might have on alligators is unknown, a study published earlier this year by King’s College London revealed that every shrimp researchers tested in 15 river locations across the British county of Suffolk contained traces of cocaine.

The animals the scientists tested were also found to contain traces of other illicit drugs and potentially toxic substances, including ketamine, pesticides and pharmaceuticals.

Earlier this month, the UK’s Sun newspaper reported that a greyhound trainer was forced to give up his licence after it was discovered that he had fed cocaine to his dogs in an effort to make them run faster.

Thomas Jordan Jnr, 49, was told he had “no place in greyhound racing” after his plot to drug his dogs was uncovered.

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