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Colombian coca cultivation hits record high as cocaine production soars

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Colombian coca cultivation

The cultivation of coca leaf in Colombia hit a record high last year, with the amount of land used to grow the plant in the South American country surging to never-seen-before levels, according to a US government report.

Figures released yesterday by the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) showed that coca cultivation increased by 11% to 209,000 hectares (516,450 acres) last year, reaching a peak that has not been since comparative records began more than 20 years ago.

In total, overall cocaine production in Colombia is estimated to have risen 19% to 921 tonnes last year, despite the US government spending billions of dollars on counter-narcotics efforts in the country.

Increased cocaine production in countries such as Colombia is widely accepted to relate directly to a growing demand for the drug in the US.

Cultivation of coca in Colombia has consistently been on the rise since 2013, when negotiations began with the now-disbanded Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which were hoped to help reduce production of cocaine across the country.

After the demobilisation of FARC, new armed groups moved into remote jungle areas used to grow coca and took over established trafficking routes.

The peace accord with FARC involved plans to provide incentives to poor Colombian farmers to grow legitimate crops in the place of coca plants, but a lack of resources has resulted in the programme failing to fully materialise.

This, coupled with the Colombian government’s decision to end aerial spraying of herbicide over illicit coca crops in 2015, has allowed cultivation to thrive.

In 2016, cocoa production in Colombia rocketed by 52% compared to the previous year.

Commenting on the figures, which serve a significant blow to US anti-drugs policy, ONDCP Deputy Director Jim Carroll said: “President Trump’s message to Colombia is clear: the record growth in cocaine production must be reversed.

“Colombia is an important United States partner with a critical role. We will continue to work with them to reduce drastically the production of cocaine destined for the United States.”

Last November, law enforcement authorities in Colombia revealed they had seized 12 tonnes of cocaine with an estimated US wholesale value of $360 million, which was thought to be the largest-ever shipment of the drug intercepted in the country at the time.

The haul was found by counter-narcotics investigators concealed underground at a number of banana plantations in the northwest Antioquia province, near the border with Panama.

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US court charges Saudi men with firearms trafficking offences in their absence

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US court charges Saudi men with firearms trafficking offences

Prosecutors in the US have charged three men from Saudi Arabia with illegally purchasing firearms parts worth an estimated $100,000 while in America on student visas and attempting to smuggle them back to their home country.

In a five-count indictment returned last week, Hatim Humeed Alsufyani, 36, and 27-year-old Mosab Alzahrani, both of whom previously resided in San Bernardino, California, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle goods out of America without obtaining the proper export licences.

Both men were also charged with counts of knowingly exporting weapons parts without a licence.

It is understood the pair are currently back in Saudi Arabia.

In a separate indictment, Mohammed Alabdulwahab, 30, who is also said to have lived in Los Angeles at the time the offences were committed, was charged with 15 counts of smuggling and 15 counts of knowingly exporting firearms parts from the US without first having obtained an export licence from the State Department.

Alabdulwahab is also thought to currently be living back in the kingdom.

Prosecutors allege that Alsufyani and Alzahrani plotted to traffic rifle barrels, rifle triggers and other items related to firearms out of the US to their home country in their checked luggage on flights from Los Angeles.

The pair are said to have falsely identified the firearms parts as “shower curtain rods” or “car parts” when passing through customs checks.

It is also alleged that Alabdulwahab got in touch with US-based firearms parts retailers in 2018 in order to buy parts for the purpose of illegally exporting them to Saudi Arabia.

Alsufyani could face a maximum penalty of 65 years behind bars if convicted of all the charges he faces, while Alzahrani could be handed a 25-year maximum jail term.

Alabdulwahab could face a maximum jail term of 10 years for each smuggling count he has been charged with, and 20 years for each violation of the Arms Export Control Act.

The US and Saudi Arabia do not have a formal extradition treaty, meaning the Kingdom does not send its citizens accused of crimes to America to face justice.

Last month, Oregon Live reported that Democratic Senator Ron Wyden had won approval for a new bill that could force the White House to disclose what it knows about the Saudi Arabian government’s alleged role in removing its citizens from the US to escape prosecution.

If it passes into law, the Saudi Fugitives Declassification Act would compel US authorities to declassify all information relating to how the Saudi government may have helped accused criminals leave the country.

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Trafficking victims rescued in Mali during Interpol-backed crackdown on forced labour and other forms of exploitation

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trafficking victims rescued in Mali

An Interpol-backed operation in Mali has resulted in the rescue of 64 women and girls who are thought to have been victims of human trafficking and people smuggling gangs.

In a statement, the global law enforcement agency said Operation Horonya saw the victims, who were from several African countries including Burkina Faso, Guinea and Nigeria, rescued from a life of forced labour, prostitution and forced begging.

The operation, which took place last month, involved local investigators targeting known trafficking hotspots, and resulted in suspected trafficking victims being rescued from settings including bars, residential properties and mining sites.

Three young boys were rescued from an illegal Islamic school, where they were said to have been compelled to beg for money.

Interpol said the operation has so far led to the arrest of four suspected traffickers, and that ongoing lines of enquiry could result in the detention of others.

As part of the initiative, law enforcement officers checked travellers’ passports at Bamako international airport, screening travel documents against a range of Interpol databases via I-24/7, the agency’s secure global police communications network.

Interpol said the effort highlighted a regional connection between human trafficking and organised criminal networks, and noted that suspected victims had been exploited in different countries before they arrived in Mali.

After their rescue, victims were offered protection and support from the International Organisation for Migration, as well as local NGO War Against Human Trafficking.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “Mali serves as major transit country for human traffickers who target the most vulnerable members of society.

“With victims from a range of countries, this operation showed that human trafficking and people smuggling is a truly transnational problem.

“Interpol’s role to connect police agencies across the world is essential in fighting these terrible crimes, and we will continue to work with our member countries to make sure they get the support they need.”

Back in August, Interpol announced that a similar operation in West Africa had resulted in the rescue of over 100 suspected victims of human trafficking, including 35 children.

Operation Adwenpa IV involved more than 200 officers from law enforcement agencies in 13 countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

Many of the children rescued in that operation were discovered around the land border between Benin and Niger.

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Scientists create fake rhino horn in effort to thwart poachers

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scientists create fake rhino horn

Researchers at the University of Oxford and Fudan University in Shanghai have created a way of synthesising fake rhino horn.

The scientists believe the method has the potential to undermine the illicit market for the genuine article.

It is hoped that the process, which involves making bogus rhino horn from horse hair, will allow for the production of enough fake horn to flood the illegal market, preventing poachers from making a profit.

Detailing the process in a paper published in Scientific Reports, the researchers note that rhino horn is not a horn in the same way that the horn of a cow is, but is in fact a tuft of tightly packed hair that grows from the animal’s nose.

Gluing together hairs from horses, which as a species are closely related to rhinos, the scientists were able to produce fake horns that retain the feel and general properties of the real thing.

The researchers said the resultant product, which is cheap and relatively straightforward to make, can be used to confuse buyers of rhino horn.

They hope the process can be refined and then used to confuse the participants in the illicit rhino horn trade, depress prices and support the conservation of rhinos, some species of which are critically endangered.

Many people in some Asian countries believe wrongly that rhino horn has medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities.

In order to perpetuate such myths, poachers and wildlife smugglers often cut rhino horn with erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra to make buyers believe their products are having the desired effect.

Ruixin Mi from the Department of Macromolecular Science at Fudan University, one of the report’s co-authors, said in a statement: “Our study demonstrates that materials science can contribute to fundamental issues in biology and conservation.

“The fundamental structure of the rhino horn is a highly evolved and tough fibre reinforced bio-composite and we hope that our attempts to copy it will not only undermine the trade in rhino horn but might also find uses as a novel bio-inspired material.”

At the beginning of last month, a US court handed an Irish national a 14-month jail term for conspiracy to traffic a cup fashioned from the horn of an endangered species of rhino.

Richard Sheridan, 50, was extradited to the US from England to appear at a court in Miami, where he pleaded guilty to smuggling the cup.

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