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Customs officers in Malaysia seize record $12 million haul of rhino horn

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Law enforcement agencies in Malaysia have confiscated illicit rhino horn estimated to be worth nearly $12 million in the largest wildlife crime seizure in the country’s history.

The massive haul, which was in transit to Vietnam, consisted of 50 rhino horns weighing around 116kgs, and was discovered by customs officials acting on a tip-off at the cargo terminal of Kuala Lumpur airport.

As well as the rhino horns, the huge consignment was also made up of the body parts of bears, leopards and tigers, which weighed in the region of 200kgs.

In a statement issued on Monday, Datuk Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim from Malaysia’s Wildlife Department said DNA tests would be carried out on all of items seized to establish the identity and origin of each species.

The animal parts, which included whole carcasses, had been packed into boxes that were due to be flown to the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

In a statement, Kanitha Krishnasamy. Acting Southeast Asia Director of TRAFFIC, an NGO that monitors the illegal wildlife trade, said: “This was a very unusual mix of wildlife parts found—rhino horns which were clearly not from Asia and carnivore carcasses which could have originated from the country.

“This discovery raises questions about how criminals are accumulating wildlife parts and using a multitude of routes and methods to traffic them onwards to destination countries

“The situation calls for a closer look into KLIA and all its operators including agents, transportation and logistics companies.”

TRAFFIC said the seizure was the most recent in a number of cases that have highlighted how Malaysia has become a major transit point for the illegal trafficking of endangered species to other Asian countries such as Vietnam, where items such as these are used in traditional medicine.

The organisation yesterday noted that at least 15 Vietnamese nationals have been arrested in Malaysia for wildlife-related offences since 2016, after they were caught with hundreds of animal parts.

Back in February, a Vietnamese national was sentenced to 15 months in jail after he was caught attempting to smuggle rhino horns and horn shavings through Singapore.

Nguyen Vinh Hai, 29, was stopped by customs officers at Changi Airport after he arrived on a flight from Laos.

Rhino horn and other animal parts are highly sought after in countries including Vietnam, where many people incorrectly believe they have medicinal properties that are able to cure all manner of conditions ranging from a hangover to cancer.

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EU gets new powers to hit international cyber hackers with sanctions

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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.”

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German and Italian police break up gang behind fake extra virgin olive oil conspiracy

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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.”

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UK’s FBI needs extra £2.7 billion to tackle more than 181,000 serious and organised offenders

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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.”

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