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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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NGO Traffic warns of rise in international trafficking of glass eels

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Traffic warns of rise in international trafficking of glass eels

Wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic has warned of an increase in the international trafficking of glass eels as the new fishing season gets underway across Europe.

Urging law enforcement agencies across the continent to remain vigilant for wildlife smugglers involved in the illegal trade of eel species, the NGO noted that the European Eel is considered to be critically endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Regulators ended the international commercial eel trade to or from the EU back in 2010 after member states concluded it was too risky to allow it to continue, and imposed a zero-import/export policy that still remains in place today.

In a statement, Hiromi Shiraishi, Traffic’s eel trade expert, said: “Illegal trade in European Eels, particularly glass eels, is the most serious wildlife crime issue the EU currently faces

“Traffickers exploited the last fishing season as an opportunity to smuggle glass eels to lucrative Asian markets and while TRAFFIC applauds the professional and intelligence-led criminal investigations which helped to disrupt the organised criminal syndicates orchestrating the trafficking, Traffic urges relevant authorities to ensure they prevent further smuggling this season—European Eel populations simply cannot withstand the sustained illegal offtake.”

Earlier this month, Europol announced that police forces across Europe confiscated 5,789kgs of smuggled glass eels with an estimated value of €11.58 million ($12.6 million) during the 2018/19 fishing season.

The latest edition of Operation Lake, which was coordinated by Europol, Eurojust, Interpol and the EU Wildlife/CITES Enforcement Group, saw the detention of more than 150 suspected eel traffickers, and the reintroduction of all seized eels back into their natural habitat.

Huge quantities of European eels are smuggled out of EU member states every year by traffickers seeking to profit from demand for the animal in Asia, where its meat is considered a delicacy and domestic stocks are too low to meet high local demand.

At the end of October, the AFP news agency reported that two Chinese nationals had each been handed 10-month jail terms and slapped with fines of €7,000 by a court in France after being convicted of attempting to smuggle 60kgs of live baby eels in their luggage onto a flight to China.

The man and woman were stopped by customs officers at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and were found to be in possession of the eels, which were contained in plastic bags filled with water inside four suitcases.

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Woman carrying cannabis bricks in bogus baby belly arrested by Argentine police

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Law enforcement officers in Argentina have arrested a woman close to the South American country’s border with Chile for attempting to smuggle cannabis concealed inside a fake baby bump.

The woman was searched after police discovered that her travelling companion was in possession of a smaller quantity of cannabis while the pair were on a long-distance coach journey from the city of Mendoza to Caleta Olivia in province of Santa Cruz.

After stopping the pair at a police checkpoint in Valle de Uco close to Mendoza, police found that the woman had hidden 15 packages of cannabis in her bogus baby bump.

The man with whom she was travelling was discovered to be in possession of two packages of the drug in his hand luggage.

Police stopped the pair while conducting routine checks on passengers using the coach route.

In total, the woman and the man were found to be carrying in excess of 4.5kgs of cannabis.

The improvised fake pregnancy bump was held together with a starch-based paste and secured to the woman’s stomach to make it appear as though she was with child.

Posting a picture of the fake baby belly on Twitter, Argentine security minister Patricia Bullrich told her followers: “She made a belly with glue, and hid 15 packages of marijuana inside it while pretending to be pregnant and attempted to move it from Mendoza to Santa Cruz .

“Police arrested the false pregnant woman and her accomplice, preventing her from trafficking the drugs she was carrying.”

In a statement, Argentine police said: “While carrying out control checks, officers stopped a group travelling from Mendoza to Caleta Olivia.

“During the inspection, police observed that a passenger was carrying a black bag that contained two brick-like packages.

“Continuing with their inspection, officers came across a young woman who had a lump in her belly, pretending to be pregnant.

“The two passengers were asked to get off the bus and were later arrested.”

In September 2013, the BBC reported that police in Colombia had arrested a Canadian woman when she attempted to board a flight to Toronto while wearing a fake baby belly that was filled with cocaine.

Police said the woman was searched after she became agitated when asked by a customs officer how far along she was with her pregnancy.

She was found be carrying two sealed bags that contained 2kgs of cocaine.

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Lithuanian and Spanish police smash violent sex trafficking gang that forced scores of women to work as prostitutes

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Lithuanian and Spanish police smash violent sex trafficking gang

A joint operation carried out by law enforcement agencies from Lithuania and Spain has resulted in the break-up of an organised crime network that trafficked women for the purposes of prostitution.

In a day of action coordinated by investigators from both countries, and supported by Europol and Eurojust, 50 searches were conducted at several locations across the two nations, resulting in the seizure of a quantity of cash, drugs, counterfeit documents, weapons and ammunition.

The operation also saw the detention of two leaders of the criminal network in Spain, the arrest of 13 suspected members of the gang in Lithuania, and the identification of 118 suspected trafficking victims from a number of countries including Ukraine and Belarus.

In a statement, Lietuvos Policija said the effort was the result of a two-year investigation into the illegal activities of the trafficking network, which is said to have used extreme violence to force victims to work as prostitutes in Lithuania.

Those arrested are said to have previously been convicted of a range of offences, including robbery, human trafficking, profiting from prostitution, and criminal damage.

All of those held, who were taken into custody where they are currently awaiting trail, have had their assets temporarily frozen.

“Europol supported the investigation by providing coordination and analytical support since the early stages of the joint investigation in 2018,” Europol said.

“Europol supported the action day by providing on-the-spot technical and analytical support in Lithuania and Spain, and by activating the virtual command post to speed up operational information exchange.

“Europol also deployed experts to Lithuania to cross-check operational information in real-time against Europol’s databases.”

Last week, four members of an eastern European sex trafficking gang were jailed for a total of over 36 years for smuggling Slovakian women to Scotland and forcing them into sham marriages, slavery or prostitution.

Vojtech Gombar, Anil Wagle, Jana Sandorova and Ratislav Adam were convicted in October of what the High Court in Edinburgh was told were “utterly repugnant” crimes.

Back in February, a pair of brothers from Romania who trafficked women into Spain before forcing them to work as prostitutes were handed jail terms totalling 108 years.

A Spanish court heard Cristian and Sebastián Sandulache, who were said to have made as much as €11,000 ($12,096) a night by forcing their victims to sell sex, inserted metal balls into their penises in order to cause maximum pain to their rape victims.

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