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The UN must be given powers to break the link between terrorism and organised crime

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terrorist groups profiting from organised crime

The UN last week called on member states, NGOs and other organisations to do more to prevent terrorist groups profiting from organised crime. In a statement, Security Council President Joanna Wronecka encouraged member nations to investigate and prosecute extremists and criminal groups that work together, calling for a strengthening of national, regional and global systems designed to collect, analyse and exchange information about their activities. But while the sentiments behind the UN’s latest call to action were laudable, Wronecka’s statement contained little in the way of new policy suggestions, and barely differed from previous calls made by the organisation on the same subject, such as a 2014 resolution urging international action to break links between terrorists and transnational organised crime.

Since then, terrorist organisations have continued to derive large parts of their income from activities that have more traditionally been associated with organised criminal networks, with little sign that international law enforcement authorities have had much success in breaking the link between extremist groups and organised criminality. If anything, it appears terrorist organisations, particularly those of the Islamist variety, have become bolder in their efforts to raise revenue from organised crime. Only last week, Italian counter-terror police revealed they had broken up a suspected transnational people smuggling network that trafficked migrants across Europe and sent the profits it made to an al-Qa’ida-linked extremist group in Syria. It is thought the trafficking gang provided Hayat Tahrir al-Sham jihadis with €2 million ($2.38 million) in funding, which was funnelled through the hawala system, an informal remittance channel commonly used in Arab countries and South Asia.

Aside from people  smuggling, and in spite of their hard-line attitude towards the consumption of narcotics and alcohol on religious grounds, Islamist terrorist organisations appear to have few qualms about profiting from drug trafficking, or supplying illegal substances to their militants. In November last year, police in Italy intercepted a shipment of opioid painkiller Tramadol estimated to be worth €50 million, which investigators said was destined to be sold to Daesh fighters in the Middle East and North Africa. Italian officials suggested the extremist group may have organised the shipment in collaboration with the feared ’Ndrangheta mafia clan.

Last October, a report from the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) and professional service firm KPMG revealed that terrorist organisations around the globe rely on smuggling, counterfeiting and piracy to fund up to 20% of their operations. Anil Rajput, Chair of the FICCI’s Committee against Smuggling and Counterfeiting Activities Destroying Economy (CASCADE), said: “In today’s time, the world’s largest and most notorious terrorist organisations are relying on the proceeds from illicit trade to give shape to their evil ideas. It is my firm view that to conquer this menace, all stakeholders will have to collectively put their might behind the cause.”

As well as participating in more traditional types of organised crime, terrorist organisations such as Daesh have also proved adept at seeking out new sources of revenue as their circumstances change, many of which have required the support of already-established criminal networks. On top of profiting from the trafficking of drugs through its former so-called caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria, Daesh was able to raise a fortune from selling fuel and cultural artefacts it had plundered from the two countries. Much of this was smuggled out of the areas the group controlled and sold onto corrupt nation states or criminal gangs.

In its latest call for member nations to do all they can to break the link between extremism and organised crime, the UN was quick to say any new measures taken to counter terrorism “must comply with all [members states’] obligations under international law”, while at the same time offering no new policies itself. In fact, the only tangible idea Wronecka mentioned in her address was a vague suggestion that member states should “prevent the movement of terrorists by effective national border controls and controls on issuance of identity papers and travel documents”, which sounded in essence not entirely dissimilar to US President Donald Trump’s much-derided travel ban, which the UN itself dismissed as “mean-spirited” and illegal under human rights law.

And this is where the problem lies. The UN should be given the power to force member states to take real action to curb the illicit activities from which terrorist organisations are able to profit. As things stand, all it can do is issue platitude-laden statements from the side-lines, imploring member nations to take action. With no sanctions for refusing to do so, it is all but inevitable that the coordinated response the UN has called for will fail to materialise. Member states should vote to give the UN the teeth it needs to force the introduction of the border controls and travel restrictions it thinks will help prevent terrorists from seeking to profit from organised crime, while the Security Council itself should spend less time worrying about the human rights of terrorist suspects. If they do not, UN interventions on the issue will come to be seen as futile as they are increasingly irrelevant.

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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants accused of helping drugs gang smuggle heroin and crystal meth

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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants

Two flight attendants working for Malaysian airline Malindo Air were among eight people arrested by police in Australia over the past two weeks during an investigation into an organised crime network suspected to be behind the importation of heroin and methamphetamine worth an estimated A$20 million ($14.35 million) into the country.

The two cabin crew members are suspected of having links to a Melbourne-based Vietnamese gang involved in the importation of high-purity heroin and methamphetamine into Australia from Malaysia.

In a series of raids on a number of properties in Melbourne that resulted in the arrest of the suspects, investigators from a coalition of Australian law enforcement agencies seized 6kgs of high-grade heroin with an estimated street value of A$14.5 million, and 8kgs of methamphetamine with a street value of $6.4 million.

Police also confiscated 0.5kgs of cocaine, assorted drug paraphernalia, a large quantity of cash, and a number of cars, including a Porsche Macan.

Six of the suspects were remanded into custody after appearing before Melbourne Magistrates Court, where they were charged with a multiple offences including importing a marketable quantity of border controlled drugs, and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Malindo Air, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s Lion Air, said it had suspended one of the cabin crew members with immediate effect pending termination.

In a statement, the company said: “Malindo Air stands ready to co-operate with all the relevant authorities be it in Australia or in Malaysia in this regard…

“As a responsible international air carrier, Malindo Air does not condone any act that is criminal in nature or misconduct by our personnel.”

Congratulating the officers who took part in the operation, Victoria Police Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh said its success sent a strong message that Australian law enforcement agencies remain focused on disrupting major drug trafficking conspiracies.

“This was a well organised syndicate we know had operated across Australia undetected for many years,” she said.

“To be in a position to make these arrests and dismantle this group is a significant win for both police and the Victorian community.

“The amount of heroin alone involved in this investigation amounts to almost fifty thousand hits in real terms.

“We know the harm that drugs bring – not just the physical and health impacts on users, but the negative flow on effects to the broader community such as property crime, assaults and drug driving.”

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Police in Belgium and Portugal dismantle organised crime gang behind sham marriage conspiracy

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sham marriage conspiracy

Law enforcement agencies in Belgium and Portugal have broken up an organised criminal gang that paid mostly Portuguese women to enter into sham marriages with Pakistani men.

In an operation supported by Europol and Eurojust, investigators today arrested 17 suspects in Belgium and a further three in Portugal in a series of coordinated raids.

The gang is said to have paid the women thousands of euros to marry the men, who were looking to illegally secure the right to live and work in the EU.

After being married in Portugal, the couples would travel to Belgium, where the wives would be employed by suspected bogus Belgian firms.

The gang would then arrange for the husbands to buy shares in the companies their sham wives worked for, allowing them the right to remain in the EU and apply for residency.

After doing so, the Pakistani men were then able to apply for social security benefits.

Once each sham marriage had been established, the women would typically return to Portugal after being paid, returning to Belgium occasionally as and when required to complete any necessary immigration or police checks.

Belgian authorities were first alerted to the scam back in 2015 when local officials became aware of an unusual rise in the number of mixed marriage certificates being issued in Ypres, a city in the Flemish province of West Flanders.

A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was established due to the international nature of the conspiracy, which culminated in today’s raids in Ypres and Brussels in Belgium, as well as in Lisbon and Algarve in Portugal.

Officers from each country took part in the day of action in both Portugal and Belgium.

Raids on 18 properties in Belgium resulted in the discovery of 43 irregular migrants, who were mostly of Pakistani origin, as well as the seizure of counterfeit documents and mobile devices.

Meanwhile in Portugal, police detained three suspects during searches of nine properties, during which laptops, desktops and other mobile devices were confiscated.

In a statement, Europe’s law enforcement agency said: “Europol supported the joint operation on-the-spot.

“Analysts were deployed to Belgium and Portugal for real-time information cross-checks and mobile phone forensics.

“This coordinated international cooperation proved very useful in the dismantling of this criminal network.”

In August last year, a similar Europol-backed operation resulted in the arrest in Romania and Poland of five members of a gang suspected of smuggling Indian and Nepali nationals into the EU through sham marriages.

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Trudeau slams death sentence for Canadian man convicted of smuggling methamphetamine in China

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sentencing to death of Canadian man

A Canadian national has been sentenced to death in China after being convicted of plotting to smuggle a large quantity of methamphetamine out of the country.

In a development that has led to a further souring of relations between the two countries, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg on Monday fell afoul of China’s super-strict drugs laws when an appeal court ruled that his original 15-year jail sentence had been too lenient, and that he must now be put to death.

The Canadian national, who is thought to be aged 36, was arrested in 2014 on suspicion of plotting to smuggle nearly 227kgs of methamphetamine from China to Australia.

Prosecutors argued that Schellenberg and an accomplice bought tyres to use to repackage the drugs before shipping them out of the country in containers.

Schellenberg’s new sentence comes after Ottawa and Beijing came to blows when Canadian police arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive at Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, at the beginning of December.

Meng is currently fighting extradition to the US in relation to allegations that she violated sanctions on Iran.

Following her detention, Canadian nationals Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor were arrested in China on suspicion of endangering national security, prompting concerns that Beijing might be using its legal system to bargain for Meng’s release.

Commenting on the new sentence handed down to Schellenberg, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said all countries should be concerned about the manner in which China is behaving, adding: “It is of extreme concern to us as a government, as it should be to all our international friends and allies, that China has chosen to begin to arbitrarily apply the death penalty, as in this case facing a Canadian.”

Schellenberg now has 10 days in which to appeal his sentence.

Reports relating to his case started to appear in Chinese media following Meng’s arrest, leading to his original sentence being upgraded on the grounds that it was not severe enough.

While the court said the new sentence could not be commuted, commentators have suggested that Schellenberg will now be used as bargaining chip as the Chinese government negotiates to secure Meng’s freedom.

In a travel warning issued in response to the appeal court’s decision, the Canadian foreign ministry cautioned its citizens in China over “the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws”.

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