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Australia announces wide-ranging crackdown on illicit tobacco trade

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illicit tobacco trade

The Australian government has announced a crackdown on the sale of illicit tobacco that it hopes will raise some A$3.6 billion ($2.7 billion) over a four-year period.

Speaking ahead of Tuesday’s budget, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the plan would involve the government taking action to prevent the sale of 864 tonnes of illicit tobacco that is estimated to slip past the country’s customs officers every year.

The country’s taxation office will be handed new powers that will allow it to levy taxes on tobacco products when they enter the country, rather than when they are despatched from licensed warehouses to retailers.

In addition, importers will be required to apply for a permit if they wish to bring tobacco products into the country.

The government will also establish a new multi-agency Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, which will be led by the Australian Border Force (ABF), and is intended to boost the government’s ability to enforce the new laws and break up illicit tobacco supply chains.

The measures will be introduced after concerns were raised that organised criminal gangs are diverting tobacco products from legitimate supply chains before they are made the subject of taxation.

While some of this activity is thought to have been conducted by employees of warehouses where tobacco products are stored before being shipped to retail buyers, it is thought that a larger-scale diversion of cigarettes from legitimate supply chains is being coordinated by organised criminal networks.

Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly O’Dwyer MP, said: “These measures will shut down the avenues that organised crime syndicates have to access illicit tobacco to fund criminal activity.

“Increasing the resources for the ATO to combat illicit tobacco will continue the great work they have been able to achieve so far.

“Since July 2016, the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) has undertaken 32 seizures totalling 215 tonnes of illicit tobacco with estimated tobacco duty forgone of $179 million.”

A recent report from professional services from KPMG revealed that illicit products accounted for 15% of the overall Australian tobacco market last year, up from 14.3% the previous year.

The study found that repeated tax hikes on tobacco products in Australia is pushing an increasing number of smokers to smuggled and counterfeit cigarettes.

Rachel Elliott, from Imperial Tobacco, which commissioned the report with Phillip Morris, commented: “We believe there is no denying the link between high excise and the illicit market.

“As excise on tobacco contributes to increased prices, the attractiveness of the illicit market becomes even more obvious to serious and organised crime.”

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Canada to pardon minor cannabis possession convictions as country legalises the drug

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Canadians convicted of possessing 30 grams or less of cannabis are to be pardoned, a source from Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party has said.

Speaking as Canada became only the second country in the world after Uruguay to legalise the recreational use of cannabis, the source said Ottawa will allow anybody with a criminal record that includes any such charge to apply to have it removed from their files.

Revealing that the exact process people will need to follow to apply for a pardon will be announced in the near future, the official told Canada’s Star newspaper: “For people to whom this applies in their past, we’re going to give them certainty that there will be recourse for them… in terms of exactly how it gets rolled out, the steps that we take, how much time it will take them, we’ll lay that out in the coming days and weeks.”

The announcement was made after members of the New Democratic Party lobbied the Canadian government to pardon people who had been caught in possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use, noting how such convictions can prevent individuals from marginalised communities from accessing housing and services.

The amnesty was announced after Canada officially legalised cannabis on Wednesday after the country’s parliament voted to do so back in June.

Long queues formed outside new cannabis shops across the country on Tuesday evening ahead of the first legally-sold marijuana being purchased from a store on the eastern island of Newfoundland at midnight.

Tom Clarke, 43, who owns the shop in Newfoundland, told reporters: “I am living my dream. Teenage Tom Clarke is loving what I am doing with my life right now.

“This is awesome. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this. I am so happy to be living in Canada right now instead of south of the border,” added Clarke, who told reporters he had been dealing cannabis illegally in Canada for 30 years.

“It’s been a long time coming. We’ve only been discussing this for 50 years. It’s better late than never.”

Despite the introduction of the new law, it will remain forbidden for Canadians to be in possession of more than 30 grams of cannabis while in public, grow more than four marijuana plants per household or buy the drug from unlicensed dealers.

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Charity probe reveals true scale of brutal European puppy smuggling trade

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European puppy smuggling trade

An undercover investigation conducted by a British animal charity has revealed the scale of the brutal European puppy smuggling trade.

The Dogs Trust discovered that European smugglers trafficking canines into the UK routinely force heavily-pregnant bitches and puppies to travel hundreds of miles in poor conditions.

Investigators from the charity also found that crooked vets are providing smugglers with faked pet passports and bogus vaccination stamps for underage puppies.

They also described hearing one dealer in Hungary boast of possessing 300 bitches producing puppies for the UK market.

The Dogs Trust noted how the UK government has failed to crack down on puppy smugglers since the charity first highlighted the illicit trade four years ago, and called on British lawmakers to use Brexit as an opportunity to update and strengthen pet travel rules, which are currently regulated by the European Union.

“Puppy smugglers are only concerned with making a profit, and the UK provides an attractive market because the high demand for ‘designer breeds’ converts into fast internet sales,” said Veterinary Director Paula Boyden.

“Importers are exploiting the lack of visual checks being made at the borders, and insufficient penalties for illegally importing puppies mean there is no real deterrent for these abhorrent crimes.”

The investigation resulted in the identification of new puppy smuggling trade routes from non-EU country Serbia, finding evidence of underage puppies being sold with EU microchips and pre-filled European passports and passed off as EU-bred animals for easier entry into EU countries.

Speaking last November, UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove said Brexit will allow the UK to crack down puppy smuggling.

“Once we have left the EU there is even more we could do,” Gove said in a written statement to Parliament.

“EU rules prevent us from restricting or banning the live export of animals for slaughter.

“EU rules also restrict us from cracking down on puppy smuggling or banning the import of puppies under six months.”

Organised criminal gangs have become involved in puppy smuggling over the past few years, attracted by the large profits that can be made from the trade, and the fact that being caught trafficking canines results in less severe punishment than other illegal activities such as drug smuggling and people trafficking.

The Dogs Trust has previously called for puppy smugglers to face stiffer penalties, noting how many are willing to risk the three months they could face in jail if they are caught attempting to sneak dogs into the UK.

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Police smash crime network behind illicit trade of Bluefin tuna in Spain

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A coalition of European law enforcement agencies have arrested scores of people suspected of being involved in a scam involving the illegal sale of Bluefin tuna in Spain.

Authorities from Spain, France, Italy, Portugal and Malta took part in a Europol-backed operation that resulted in 79 individuals being detained and the seizure of more than 80 tonnes of illicit Bluefin tuna.

As well as the seizure of a significant amount of fish, the operation also resulted in the confiscation of €500,000 ($576,500), seven luxury vehicles, jewellery, watches and other valuable items.

It is thought the network behind the scam trafficked 2,500 tonnes of tuna a year.

Operation Tarantelo began after officers from Spain’s Guardia Civil were alerted to a number of irregularities relating to the fishing of Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea.

This led to the discovery that large quantities of fish caught in Italian and Maltese waters were being traded illegally in Spain after being smuggled into the country via French harbours.

The members of the gang behind the scam are said to have made at least €5 on every kilo of tuna they sold, resulting in them raking in a total estimated profit of €12.5 million.

A number of people are reported to have fallen ill after eating tuna smuggled into Spain by the gang due to the unhygienic conditions in which the fish was transported and stored.

The smugglers used documentation from legitimate fish farms to illegally import their illicit tuna into Spain, where poor customs checks failed to identify the rogue Bluefin.

Illegally-caught hauls of fish were also discovered on boats in Spanish waters, on which smugglers are said to have transported the tuna in false bottoms under the deck of their vessels.

Europol supported the operation by providing analysis support, advice from environmental crime experts and by coordinating meetings for information exchange.

“The tuna business is often linked to other crimes such as food fraud or document fraud,” the agency said in a statement.

“The main risks for consumer health were due to the unsanitary conditions in which the fish was transported and stored. Sometimes the fish was hidden underwater after it was fished, awaiting transportation.”

In December last year, the Maltese Independent reported that five tonnes of Bluefin tuna were being smuggled into Malta every single week before being trafficked onwards to EU states including Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and France.

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