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.
Police across Europe arrest scores during child trafficking crackdown
Law enforcement agencies across Europe took part in a coordinated crackdown on child trafficking at the beginning of last month, Europol revealed earlier today.
During the first week of July, police across 22 member states took part in an EMPACT trafficking in human beings campaign that resulted in the identification of 51 children and 72 adults who police suspected could be potential victims of exploitation.
The children, the youngest of which was aged just two, were exploited for the purposes of labour, forced begging, and sexual services, Europe’s law enforcement agency said.
The operation also resulted in the discovery of criminals with links to migrant smuggling and the fake document trade, triggering the investigation of 45 new cases.
In total, the crackdown resulted in the detention of 24 suspects who were questioned over their alleged links to the human trafficking trade, and a further 61 suspects who were detained in relation to other crimes.
“The actions focused mainly on hotspots for sexual exploitation, forced begging and forced criminality (e.g. pickpocketing and minor thefts), and intensified activities at border crossing points,” Europol said in a statement.
“As the identification of victims of trafficking in human beings remains very challenging, particularly the identification of child victims, many participating countries also undertook prevention and awareness raising activities.”
News of the success of the operation comes after UK officials last week warned that people smugglers and human traffickers are using Facebook to attract potential victims.
Speaking with the Evening Standard last week, National Crime Agency (NCA) Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said migrant deaths in the Mediterranean remain high and that victims were too often being recruited via the social network.
The NCA said it had found more than 800 Facebook pages that were linked to organised crime gangs involved in the trafficking of migrants into and across Europe.
In comments made separately to the Reuters news agency, Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce boss Chris Hogben warned that Facebook is failing to prevent people smugglers from luring victims through its platforms.
“More often than not, these adverts are quite reassuring, they create an illusion this is very much normal travel, it’s safe, it’s easy,” he said.
“Tragically, when you look at quite a few of these adverts they might be advertising big luxury yachts or ships. When the migrants turn up to get transported they find they are being packed onto a rib or a small boat without safety jackets.”
Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises to fight rampant gasoline smuggling
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has said the country’s subsidised fuel prices should rise to international levels in a bid to prevent smugglers cheating the country out of billions of dollars.
Speaking during a televised address yesterday, Maduro said petrol must now be sold at an internationally-competitive price to stop smuggling gangs trafficking fuel out of the country to Colombia and the Caribbean.
As is the case with many oil-producing nations, Venezuela has offered its citizens heavily-subsidised petrol for decades, but its fuel prices have remained nearly flat for years despite hyperinflation.
This means the country’s drivers can now fill up the tank of a small SUV nearly 9,000 times over for the price of a cup of coffee.
Put another way, filling up a tank of fuel in Venezuela currently costs the equivalent of less than one US cent.
This offers smugglers massive profits in exchange for smuggling fuel out of Venezuela to be sold at market value in neighbouring countries, so much so that the trade in illicit fuel has become more lucrative than drug smuggling.
It is estimated the country’s crumbling economy loses as much as $18 billion a year to fuel smuggling, forcing the government to act as the nation’s production of oil, which is its largest export, continues to fall.
While Maduro has pledged that the Venezuelan government will continue to offer “direct subsidies” to citizens holding a state-issued identification card, many Venezuelans have refused to get the ID cards, alleging they are used by officials to keep tabs on them.
Maduro said: “Anyone who does not respond to the call for this census, who does not wish to participate in the direct subsidy, will have to pay for gasoline at the international rate.”
Responding to Maduro’s announcement on Twitter, Chief Economic Adviser to Allianz Mohamed El-Erian commented: “It will be interesting to see how the population in #Venezuela responds to today’s announcement by President #Maduro eliminating subsidies on #fuel. If implemented fully, this would entail a significant rise in prices … from the lowest in the world to international levels.”
Other observers suggested hiking fuel prices in Venezuela might risk pushing even higher the country’s sky-high inflation rate, which the International Monetary Fund predicts could reach one million percent.
“The collapse in economic activity, hyperinflation, and increasing deterioration in the provision of public goods as well as shortages of food at subsidized prices have resulted in large migration flows, which will lead to intensifying spill over effects on neighbouring countries,” Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, wrote in a blog post.
Police in New York break up $70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy
Five New York residents have been arrested after police disrupted a plot to traffic counterfeit Nike Air Jordan trainers estimated to be worth more than $70 million.
Officers from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit detained Miyuki Suen, Jian Min Huang, Songhua Qu, Kin Lui Chen and Fangrang Qu, before charging them with illegally importing the thousands of pairs of fake sports shoes from China into the US.
After the shoes arrived in the country, the suspects and their co-conspirators are said to have stuck bogus Nike-trademarked logos on them, before offering them for sale across the US.
Prior to charging the suspects, investigators examined nearly 27,000 pairs of trainers over an eight-month period.
Each member of the gang could face up to 20 years in jail if they are found guilty of counterfeit trafficking conspiracy and trafficking in counterfeit goods.
If the trainers had been genuine, they would have been worth $73 million if sold at retail value, according to the NYPD and HSI.
The bogus trainers are said to have looked nearly identical to the genuine article, but did not feature the genuine Nike Air Jordan trademarked logos.
In a statement, Angel Melendez, Special Agent in Charge for HSI New York. “These five individuals are alleged to have been a part of a large scale counterfeiting scheme, importing nearly a half million pairs of knock-off Nike sneakers.
“These counterfeiting networks can be both detrimental to our economy and threaten our national security, and HSI will continue to take every measure in investigating and dismantling these organisations.”
Manhattan Attorney Geoffrey Berman added: “The five defendants in this case allegedly counterfeited over $70 million in fake Nike shoes and sold them to buyers on the U.S. market.
“I commend our law enforcement partners for helping to bring today’s charges, which send a clear message to would-be counterfeiters: ‘Just don’t do it.’”
Nike Air Jordan trainers, which are named after retired basketball player Michael Jordan and typically sell for close to $200, have been widely counterfeited since they were introduced in the 1980s.
Back in January, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discovered hundreds of pairs of Nike Air Jordan trainers in a shipment passing through Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
The 400 pairs of various versions of the trainers arrived at the airport on 15 December from China, and would have been worth nearly $55,000 if sold at the manufacturer’s recommended retail price.
- Britain’s Monkey Dust ‘epidemic’ will likely continue until the UK changes its regressive drugs laws
- Police across Europe arrest scores during child trafficking crackdown
- Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises to fight rampant gasoline smuggling
- Police in New York break up $70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy
- Spanish authorities arrest people smugglers who trafficked migrants into France
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