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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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Counterfeit goods rise to account for 3.3% of all global trade, OECD report reveals

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counterfeit goods rise to account for 3.3% of all global trade

Pirated and counterfeit goods now account for 3.3% of all global trade, according to a new study published yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office.

Based on worldwide customs seizure data, the report estimates the global value of counterfeit and pirated goods was $509 billion in 2016, the latest year for which records were available.

This was up from $461 billion in 2013, which amounted to 2.5% of all world trade that year.

The notable increase was recorded over a period during which global trading levels decreased, suggesting that the worldwide trade in illicit trade pirated and counterfeit goods is expanding rapidly.

According to the study, the problem is particularly acute in the European Union, where counterfeit and pirated goods were found to account for 7% of the 28-nation bloc’s trade in 2016.

Over the course of 2016, the data shows that the most frequently seized pirated and counterfeit products across the globe in dollar value were bogus footwear, clothing, leather goods and IT equipment, flowed by watches, medical products and fragrances.

Most of the fake goods seized across the globe throughout 2016 are said to have originated from mainland China and Hong Kong, with countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Singapore, Thailand and India remaining major sources of counterfeit products.

US firms were most affected by the trade in pirated and counterfeit items in 2016, with American products accounting for 24% of global seizures.

The US was followed by France (17%), Italy (15%), Switzerland (11%) and Germany (9%).

The report also revealed that an increasing number of companies in emerging economies such as Brazil and China are becoming targets of counterfeiters.

Authors of the report said the rise in circulation of counterfeit and pirated goods comes at a time when digital trading platforms are making it increasingly easy for the criminal networks that produce fake goods to sell to a global customer base.

The sending of small parcels through the mail system remained the most popular way for pirated and counterfeit goods to be distributed in 2016, accounting for 69% of all seized fake goods.

Launching the report yesterday, OECD Public Governance Director Marcos Bonturi said: “Counterfeit trade takes away revenues from firms and governments and feed other criminal activities. It can also jeopardise consumers’ health and safety.

“Counterfeiters thrive where there is poor governance. It is vital that we do more to protect intellectual property and address corruption.”

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EU prepares for WannaCry-style hacking attempts ahead of European Parliament elections in May

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EU prepares for WannaCry-style hacking attempts

Europol has announced that law enforcement agencies across EU member states are preparing to counter cross-border hacking attempts ahead of the European Parliament elections at the end of May.

Bracing for cyber attacks on democratic institutions, think tanks and non-profit organisations ahead of the vote, the European Council has formally adopted an EU Law Enforcement Emergency Response Protocol, which Europol said would serve as a tool to support law enforcement authorities across the union by providing an immediate response to major cross-border hacking attempts.

The protocol, which gives Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) a central role in responding to these types of threats, is intended to offer member states with a rapid assessment of hacking attempts, as well as the ability to share critical information in a secure and timely manner.

Under the terms of the protocol, EC3 will help member state law enforcement agencies coordinate the international aspects of any investigation into cross-border hacking attempts.

The adoption of the protocol comes after major cyber attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya that targeted national infrastructure and private businesses across Europe and elsewhere in 2017 demonstrated that member states were insufficiently prepared for the evolving nature of hackers’ methods.

Noting that the prospect of a major cyber attack having repercussions in the physical world is no longer the stuff of science fiction, Europol said the protocol complements existing EU crisis management mechanisms, and will help law enforcement agencies across tackle cyber security events of a malicious and suspected criminal nature.

Commenting on the adoption of the protocol, Wil van Gemert, Deputy Executive Director of Operations at Europol, said in a statement: “It is of critical importance that we increase cyber preparedness in order to protect the EU and its citizens from large scale cyber-attacks.

“Law enforcement plays a vital role in the emergency response to reduce the number of victims affected and to preserve the necessary evidence to bring to justice the ones who are responsible for the attack.”

The protocol was launched after the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) last week criticised the British government’s efforts to prepare for major cyber attacks from hacking groups or hostile nation states such as Russia.

The NAO said Britain remains vulnerable to hacking attempts that could affect crucial infrastructure, domestic networks, and businesses.

NAO chief Amyas Morse commented: “The government has demonstrated its commitment to improving cyber security.

“However, it is unclear whether its approach will represent value for money in the short term and how it will prioritise and fund this activity after 2021.”

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British government releases £100 million to help police battle UK’s spiralling knife crime epidemic

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UK’s spiralling knife crime epidemic

The UK government yesterday announced £100 million (S132.7 million) in new funding to help police in England and Wales fight the country’s worsening knife crime crisis.

Since the beginning of the year, 39 people have been stabbed to death across the UK, including 17-year-old Jodie Chesney, who was knifed in the back in east London earlier this month.

Last year, the criminal justice system in England and Wales dealt with 21,484 knife and offensive weapon cases, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), with homicides reaching 135 in London alone.

Announcing the new money during his spring statement to UK Parliament yesterday, Chancellor Philip Hammond said the extra money would be used to bolster law enforcement agencies in the worst-affected regions across England and Wales, and will pay for a “surge” in street policing in problem areas.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who had pressed hard for extra funding to tackle the issue, commented: “I’ve listened to [police] concerns and this £100 million – including £80 million new funding from the Treasury – will allow them to swiftly crack down on knife crime on the areas of the country where it is most rife.

“This is on top of the £970 million of additional money that policing is already due to receive from April from the Government and Council Tax.”

In a report published earlier this week, England’s education regulator Ofsted revealed that organised criminal gangs are encouraging children to take knives into classes with “the sole purpose” of getting them excluded.

British county lines drugs gangs are known to recruit vulnerable children at risk of being expelled from school in the knowledge their victims will be easier to manipulate once they no longer have access to trusted adults such as teachers.

Debate has raged in the UK as to the cause of the escalation of the country’s violent crime epidemic, with some blaming police cuts and austerity introduced under the current Conservative government, and others pointing to a fall in police stop and searches, and cultural issues present in certain communities.

At the beginning of this week, police forces across England and Wales launched a seven-day crackdown on knife crime, which has seen officers set up knife surrender bins, increase stop and search activities, and conduct a number of weapons sweeps.

Launching the campaign in Suffolk, Superintendent Kerry Cutler said: “Young people face all sorts of pressures and therefore family, friends and role models are an important influence in their lives.

“Having a conversation with them about the dangers of carrying a knife may be difficult but talking and listening is critical to finding a solution to the growing problem we have seen nationally around knife crime.”

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