A US judge has fined two Chinese flight attendants $5,500 each and ordered them to leave America within 72 hours after they were found guilty of attempting to smuggle dozens of spotted and box turtles in carry-on luggage from Los Angeles to China.
The China Eastern Airlines flight attendants were arrested on 12 May at Los Angeles International Airport after customs officers discovered 31 live spotted turtles and 14 live box turtles concealed in pillowcases and plastic bags in their luggage.
A customs officer pulled the pair aside for further inspection after noticing unusual round objects in their bags during an X-ray check.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agent is then reported to have recognised the items as turtles as a result of his fondness for reptiles as a teenager.
Sentencing Huaqian Qu and Renfeng Gao to three years’ probation, Judge James Otero yesterday told the pair they must pay their fines to the US Fish and Wildlife Service before returning to China within three days.
Qu and Gao had previously pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge last month, which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in jail.
Prosecutors had called for the pair to both be handed 10-month jail terms, but Otero said the smuggling offence “was not violent”, and that the probationary sentences and fines were “sufficient” punishment.
TSA officials said the turtles could have fetched more $40,000 in Asia.
While both box turtles and spotted turtles are protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites), there is a high demand for US native turtles in Asia, where they are considered a delicacy and are commonly used traditional medicine.
The two flight attendants were arrested during an Interpol-backed operation that resulted in the seizure of tens of thousands of products made from animal parts banned under Cites at ports and airports.
Commenting on the success of Operation Thunderstorm, which took place in May, World Customs Organisation General Kunio Mikuriya said: “By leveraging the global network of worldwide environmental law enforcement experts and customs community’s commitment to protecting wildlife, WCO and its partners have clearly illustrated the power and effectiveness of international cooperation in keeping our natural heritage safe, both now and for future generations.
“Operation Thunderstorm clearly demonstrates that by pooling our transnational law enforcement collaboration in the field, WCO and Interpol firmly contribute to making sure that borders everywhere divide criminals but connect customs and law enforcement as a whole to make the world a safer place.”
EU gets new powers to hit international cyber hackers with sanctions
The EU is now able to hit international cyber criminals who pose a threat to member states with targeted sanctions as part of efforts to restrict hackers’ ability to knock out key infrastructure.
A new legal mechanism agreed this morning by the European Council can be used to target hackers regardless of where in the world they are based.
It provides the EU with the power to freeze assets held by such offenders in member states, and to prevent them from entering the 28-nation bloc.
The new framework can also be used to target any individuals who provide “financial, technical or material support for such attacks or who are involved in other ways”, the Council said in a statement issued this morning.
The new measures were signed off today in Brussels after the Netherlands and the UK lobbied for greater powers for members states to take swifter action against the originators of cyber attacks with the potential to bring down crucial national infrastructure, such as the May 2017 WannaCry ransomware outbreak.
Welcoming the introduction of the new sanctions regime, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt commented: “This is decisive action to deter future cyber-attacks. For too long now, hostile actors have been threatening the EU’s security through disrupting critical infrastructure, attempts to undermine democracy and stealing commercial secrets and money running to billions of euros.
“We must now look to impose travel bans and asset freezes against those we know have been responsible for this.”
The new powers were passed into EU law after it was reported that an international coalition of law enforcement agencies had broken up a cyber crime network that used malware in an attempt to steal $100 million from more than 41,000 victims.
Members of the gang, which was made up of hackers who advertised their skills on internet forums, are said to have used the GozNym malware to gain access to victims’ online banking login credentials, before using these to gain unauthorised access to their online accounts to drain them of money.
The funds that were stolen would then be laundered using US and foreign beneficiary bank accounts controlled by gang members.
A criminal indictment has now been returned by a US federal grand jury in Pittsburgh charging 10 members of the network with a number of cyber crime-related offences.
US Attorney Scott Brady commented: “The collaborative and simultaneous prosecution of the members of the GozNym criminal conspiracy in four countries represents a paradigm shift in how we investigate and prosecute cyber crime.
“Cyber crime victimises people all over the world. This prosecution represents an international cooperative effort to bring cyber criminals to justice.”
German and Italian police break up gang behind fake extra virgin olive oil conspiracy
An international operation coordinated by Europol has resulted in the dismantling of an organised criminal network behind the fraudulent sale of huge quantities of counterfeit extra virgin olive oil in Germany and Italy.
The operation that targeted the gang, which involved police investigators, from both countries, resulted in the arrest of 20 suspected gang members, as well as the seizure of 150,000 litres of fake extra virgin olive oil.
Members of the gang are said to have sourced wholesale quantities of sunflower oil in Italy, which they then adulterated with chlorophyll, beta-carotene and soya oil in a bid to make it appear as though it was extra virgin olive oil.
Once this process was completed in what Europol described as “unsanitary conditions”, the resultant bogus oil was transported by lorry to Germany, where it was stored by logistics firms before being fraudulently sold onto restaurant owners across the country.
Based on evidence that indicates the network purchased around one million litres of sunflower oil a year, it is estimated that the gang made some €8 million ($8.96 million) annually by selling their counterfeit product for as much as €10 per litre.
Investigators participating in the operation conducted raids at 20 properties in multiple locations, and impounded five lorries that were intercepted while carrying 23,000 litres of counterfeit oil each.
In a statement, Europol said: “This operation, supported by Europol and Eurojust, was carried out within the framework of the international Operation Opson, focused on combating counterfeit and substandard food and beverage products on the market in Europe and beyond.
“Europol supported this case since the beginning by holding an operational meeting at its headquarters in The Hague.”
Operation Opson, which has been run by a coalition of law enforcement agencies including Europol and Interpol since 2011, has resulted in the seizure of many thousands of tonnes of fake and adulterated food and drink, as well as the arrest of scores of suspected members of criminal food fraud gangs.
During the most recent Operation Opson investigation, which took place between December 2017 and March 2018, law enforcement agencies from a record 67 countries removed 3,620 tonnes of substandard and dangerous food from international supply chains, and broke up almost 50 organised crime networks said to have been involved in the illegal trade in counterfeit food and drink.
Speaking in April last year, Jari Liukku, Head of Europol’s European Serious and Organised Crime Centre, said: “[Food fraud] is a threat which requires… cooperation across borders, taking into account the increased integration and globalisation of supply chains.”
UK’s FBI needs extra £2.7 billion to tackle more than 181,000 serious and organised offenders
In the latest edition of its annual National Strategic Assessment, the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) has warned that there are at least 181,000 offenders linked to serious and organised crime operating in Britain, which is more than twice the number of soldiers currently serving in the British Army.
Launching the assessment, which was published this morning, NCA Director General Lynne Owens said the UK Government must provide an additional £2.7 billion ($3.5 billion) to tackle the growth in serious and organised crime, which she said is causing “staggering” damage to Britain.
She said this would work out to an additional £650 million in annual funding over the next three years; an amount equivalent to less than the weekly cost of serious and organised crime to Britain.
Speaking at the weekend ahead of the release of the assessment, Owens told reporters that serious and organised crime is responsible for more deaths every year in the UK than terrorism, war and natural disasters combined.
The assessment reveals that more than 144,000 paedophiles are accessing child sex abuse images through the dark web in Britain, while the number of county lines drug supply lines has increased from 720 to around 2,000 in little over a year.
Elsewhere, the report found that financial losses from fraud increased by 32% between April and September 2018 in the UK, and that there were 3.6 million incidents of fraud reported in England and Wales last year.
According to the report, organised immigration crime gangs from China and Vietnam have ramped up their activities in Britain over the course of the past year, while the number of human trafficking and modern slavery victims identified in the UK has risen sharply.
The NCA, which is often referred to as the UK’s equivalent of the FBI, notes in its assessment that new and emerging technologies such as the dark web, cryptocurrencies and encrypted messaging apps are helping serious and organised criminals commit a range of offences from anywhere in the world, including drug distribution, money laundering, the sharing of indecent images of children, and the hacking of national infrastructure.
“Visible, frontline policing is vital to public safety, but the reality is that we will not defeat serious and organised crime with beat officers alone,” Owens said.
“Some of the capabilities we need are most effectively and efficiently delivered at the local or regional level. The NCA must deliver others on a national basis, providing the right agencies with the right capabilities at the right time to deliver maximum impact.
“The choice is stark. Failing to invest will result in the gradual erosion of our capabilities and our ability to protect the public.”
- International pickpocketing gangs must be treated as serious and organised criminal networks
- EU gets new powers to hit international cyber hackers with sanctions
- German and Italian police break up gang behind fake extra virgin olive oil conspiracy
- Why counterfeiters are still able to operate all but freely on the surface web
- UK’s FBI needs extra £2.7 billion to tackle more than 181,000 serious and organised offenders
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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