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Nearly a dozen suspected traffickers charged with smuggling $450 million of fake Chinese goods to US

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Police in New York have arrested 22 people on suspicion of being involved in a plot to smuggle counterfeit goods worth $450 million into the US from China.

The suspects stand accused of smuggling Chinese-manufactured fake luxury items into the country, such as Louis Vuitton and Tory Burch handbags, Michael Kors wallets, Hermes belts and Chanel perfume, among other products.

Prosecutors argue the Chinese gang members smuggled the items in large shipping containers disguised as legitimate products and brought them into the country via seaports in New York and New Jersey.

In a bid to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities, the gang members are said to have falsified customs documents and used “burner” cell phone numbers and email accounts to conceal their true identities and cover their tracks.

Officials said the seizure was one of the largest in the history of US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, putting the bust in perspective by noting the agency seized counterfeit goods estimated to be worth around $1.2 billion throughout the whole of 2017.

Those arrested were charged with a number of offences, including conspiracy to traffic counterfeit goods, conspiracy to smuggle counterfeit goods, money laundering, immigration fraud and unlawful procurement of naturalisation.

The suspects are said to have planned to sell the bogus items across the US, where they would have been worth nearly half a billion dollars had they been genuine.

“The defendants allegedly smuggled millions of dollars of counterfeit luxury goods into our country, depriving companies of their valuable and hard-earned intellectual property,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

“The illegal smuggling of counterfeit goods poses a real threat to honest businesses, and I commend our federal prosecutors and partners at HSI and the NYPD for their outstanding work on this important investigation.

“The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who seek to exploit our borders by smuggling counterfeit goods for sale on the black market.”

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods a priority issue this year, and is targeting the importation of fake products from locations such as Hong Kong and China that can damage the American economy and threaten the health and safety of US consumers.

Speaking back in March, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said: “The theft of intellectual property and trade in counterfeit and pirated goods causes harm to an innovation-based economy by threatening the competitiveness of businesses and the livelihoods of workers.”

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HP joins forces with Ugandan authorities to tackle counterfeit printer cartridges

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US technology giant HP has teamed up with authorities in Uganda to crack down on the availability of fake HP-branded print cartridges in the country’s capital of Kampala.

The company assisted Ugandan law enforcement agencies in an operation that led to raids on premises owned by two large retailers that were selling counterfeit HP printer cartridges.

Investigators carried out searches of multiple retail outlets and a number of illicit manufacturing facilities where the two firms produced the bogus cartridges.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Glenn Jones, HP’s Global Anti-Counterfeiting Program Manager, said: “HP commends the cooperation and swift action of Ugandan officials and their determination to apprehend and prosecute counterfeiters who break the law.

“We are proud of our continued work to bring counterfeiters to justice, not only in Africa but throughout the world.

“Through our unwavering efforts and commitment to removing counterfeit products from the market, we continue to focus on the protection of our customers through our Anti-Counterfeiting and Fraud Programme.”

HP noted that consumers who buy fake printer cartridges could face performance and reliability issues, and may invalidate their device’s warranty if it breaks as a result of their use of counterfeit HP products.

Over the past five years, law enforcement authorities in countries across Europe, the Middle East and Africa have seized some 12 million fake HP printer cartridges and other components, while HP itself has carried out more than 4,500 audits and inspections of partners’ stocks or suspicious deliveries for customers.

HP has established its own Anti-Counterfeiting and Fraud Programme, through which it seeks to educate customers and partners on how to spot fake printing supplies.

The company also works closely with law enforcement agencies and governments across the globe to identify and prosecute companies and individuals that make bogus HP printing products.

Back April, HP said it was cooperating closely with law enforcement officials in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to shut down two manufacturers and distributors of fake print supplies.

In an operation that took place between December last year and this February, UAE investigators carried out raids on numerous premises linked to the two firms, impounding 35,400 illicit print components, and 1,200 counterfeit ready-for-sale counterfeit toner cartridges.

Speaking after the operation, Jones said: “HP commends the cooperation and swift action of the Emirate of Dubai officials and their determination to apprehend and prosecute counterfeiters who break the law.”

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Interpol leads global crackdown on criminal maritime pollution

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A worldwide law enforcement effort designed to tackle criminal maritime pollution backed by Interpol and Europol has resulted in the discovery of hundreds of offences and exposed serious cases of contamination across the globe.

The month-long operation, which was dubbed 30 Days at Sea and took place throughout October, saw hundreds of law enforcement and environmental agencies from 58 countries uncover more than 500 violations.

In a statement, Interpol said these included numerous illegal discharges of oil and refuse from boats, shipbreaking, breaches of ship emissions regulations, and pollution on rivers and land-based runoff to sea water.

The operation – which involved a global network of 122 national coordinators directing environmental, maritime and border agencies, national police forces, customs, and port authorities – resulted in over 5,200 inspections.

These have led to the establishment of at least 185 investigations, with multiple arrests and prosecutions anticipated.

Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said the operation was designed to disabuse organised criminal gangs of the mistaken belief that maritime pollution is low-risk and is essentially victimless.

“Marine pollution creates health hazards worldwide which undermine sustainable development and requires a multi-agency, multi-sector cooperative response within a solid global security architecture,” he added.

The operation resulted in the discovery of multiple cases of serious contamination, including the dumping of animal farm waste in coastal waters off the Philippines, a vessel that pumped 600 litres of palm oil into the sea near Germany, and the dumping of gallons of waste oil in large bottles at sea, which was uncovered by investigators in Ghana.

Elsewhere, environmental officials prevented a potential disaster in Albania by securing waters around a sinking vessel containing some 500 litres of oil, while a major pollution threat was averted after the collision of two vessels in French waters.

The 30 Days at Sea initiative was led by Interpol’s Pollution Crime Working Group, which heads up a number of projects designed to crack down on the transport, trade and disposal of wastes and hazardous substances in contravention of national and international laws.

Interpol said the effort was launched in response to a call to boost international law enforcement action against emerging environmental crime through action in the field.

The issue of illegal marine pollution is one that global communities may well be able to tackle successfully in the next decade, according to UN Environment Executive Director Erik Solheim, who urged law enforcement partners “to make sure that there is no impunity for the perpetrators of marine pollution crime”.

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EU study recommends criminalisation of paying for sex as most effective way to tackle forced prostitution

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A two-year EU-funded study has concluded that criminalising the purchase of sex is the most effective way to tackle human trafficking and modern slavery for the purposes of prostitution.

Researchers working on the report examined legislative approaches to prostitution and trafficking in six EU member states, and recommended that the introduction of a criminal offence for buying a person for sexual acts is the only effective means by which governments can reduce demand for victims of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

The study – which was compiled by agencies in Cyprus, Finland, France, Ireland, Lithuania and Sweden – said the introduction of laws relating to prostitution and human trafficking need to be accompanied by a comprehensive range of measures that include enforcement policies, protection and support for all victims of sexual exploitation, monitoring and evaluation, and preventative initiatives.

Monica O’Connor, co-founder of the University College Dublin’s Sexual Exploitation Research Project, and author of the report, commented: “In Sweden, and now in France and Ireland, the laws flow from the understanding of prostitution as a form of violence against women.

“This means the demand to buy girls or women to supply sexual acts is not regarded as legitimate or acceptable within society.

“The purchase of sex is a criminal offence, while those being exploited are decriminalised.”

The Republic of Ireland made it an offence to buy sexual services back in February 2017 after passing a law designed to protect vulnerable women forced into prostitution against their will.

Ireland’s decision followed the introduction of similar legislation in Canada, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Northern Ireland, where men who are caught using sex workers are subject to punishment while those forced into prostitution are treated as victims.

The new EU report, which pools findings made by researchers in each participating country,   recommends that the introduction of laws prohibiting the purchase of sexual services must be accompanied by measures designed to ensure there are no negative consequences for trafficked women.

According to the study, any new legalisation that outlaws the purchase of sexual services should include measures that would ensure victims forced to work as prostitutes would be offered protection, accommodation, early legal intervention, as well as legal advocacy and support.

Former sex worker Mia de Faoite, who now campaigns to prevent human trafficking, said: “This comparative report is most welcome, once again highlighting that targeting the demand through criminalising those who purchase human beings is the most effective way to reduce trafficking of women and girls into prostitution.”

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