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Spanish police smash Europe’s largest illegal turtle farm on Balearic Islands

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Police in Spain have raided and closed down the largest illegal turtle farm ever found in Europe.

Operation Coahuila began when officers from the country’s Guardia Civil law enforcement agency seized a shipment of turtles at Mallorca airport in February last year.

Customs officers’ suspicions were raised when it was noticed that the turtles being transported did not correspond with the paperwork that accompanied the shipment.

An investigation into where the turtles had come from led police to an illegal turtle farm on the Balearic Islands devoted entirely to the industrial breeding of several species of water turtles and tortoises.

The operation resulted in the rescue of some 1,100 live turtles and 750 eggs, and the arrest of two German men, as well as a Spanish pet shop owner in Barcelona.

Police said the three suspects, who are alleged to have kept a number of protected species in poor conditions at the site, have been charged with trafficking an endangered species and money laundering.

Another Spanish national and two other Germans are also under investigation.

According to Europol, the reptiles and eggs recovered from the site were estimated to be worth €600 000 ($694,721), with some of the species worth up to €10,000 per turtle.

“The owners of the farm collaborated very closely with a pet shop in Barcelona, which specialised in exotic animals and was used to smuggle the turtles bred in Mallorca,” Europol said in a statement.

“The operation resulted in two individuals arrested in Mallorca alongside one in Barcelona and another three people detained in both cities. They are accused of offences against wild fauna and flora, smuggling protected species and money laundering.”

More than a third of the 50 most endangered turtle species in the world were discovered at the farm, including animals that originated from countries including Canada, Mexico, the United States and South Asian nations.

A number of the species discovered at the site are considered to be at high a risk of extinction, including black turtles, which are listed as “vulnerable” in Spain.

Turtle and tortoise species are often slaughtered for their skin, shells and meat, while their eggs are considered a delicacy in some countries.

The operation was led by Spanish police with the support of experts from the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) and Europol, with input from law enforcement agencies in Austria, France, Germany and Italy.

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Woman arrested in Malaysia for attempting to smuggle heroin hidden in durian fruit

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Customs officers at a Malaysian airport have arrested a woman for attempting to smuggle 6.13kgs of heroin worth an estimated RM953,529 ($227,900) out of the country concealed inside frozen durian fruits, according to a report from Malaysian state-run news agency Bernama.

Police arrested the 34-year-old woman after border security workers at the Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport in Subang found the drug-stuffed fruit hidden among 20 Styrofoam boxes at a cargo centre where it was waiting to be transported to Hong Kong.

Datuk Zulkarnain Mohamed Yusuf, the Central Zone Customs Assistant Director General, said the fruit had been hollowed out before being filled with heroin.

“Four of them were found to contain white lumps of suspected heroin wrapped in translucent plastic inside the fruit,” he said during a press conference at the Kuala Lumpur Customs Complex in Kelana Jaya.

Yusuf said his officers acted after receiving intelligence about the smuggling plot, and moved to arrest the woman suspected of being behind the shipment after her details were found on the shipping manifesto.

The woman, who was remanded in custody for five days on suspicion of drug trafficking, could face the death penalty if she is convicted of attempting to smuggle heroin.

Durian fruit, which is renowned for the pungent aroma it gives off, is popular in Malaysia and Indonesia, and is finding a growing number of admirers in countries including China and Hong Kong.

Earlier this month, FlightGlobal reported that an Air Canada flight was forced to make an emergency landing due to the smell given off by a shipment of durians.

Hiding large consignments of illicit narcotics has become a popular smuggling method among drug traffickers across the globe.

In August, Chinese government-funded news agency Xinhua reported that Bulgarian customs officers had discovered almost 76kgs of cocaine said to be worth nearly $3 million concealed inside a shipment of fruit in the port city of Burgas.

Elsewhere, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced in February that its investigators had found over half a tonne of cocaine estimated to be worth more than $19 million hidden inside a shipment of fresh pineapples that had arrived in Georgia by boat from Colombia.

Spanish investigators last April discovered nine tonnes of cocaine estimated to be worth more than €285 million (£312.7 million) among hundreds of boxes of bananas on a shipping container that arrived from Colombia at Algeciras port.

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US police use sophisticated cryptocurrency tracing techniques to smash world’s largest dark web paedophile film network

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US prosecutors have charged a South Korean man with running the world’s largest dark web distribution network for indecent images of children, according to a statement from the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

Jong Woo Son, 23, has also been charged and convicted in South Korea, where he is currently serving jail time for the crimes of which he stands accused in the US.

The Welcome to Video website, which is reported to have hosted more than 250,000 indecent videos featuring minors that users had downloaded more than one million times, charged paedophiles for access to abuse material using cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

Despite Son’s concerted efforts to avoid being discovered by law enforcement authorities, investigators were able to trace the server he used to host the site through sophisticated cryptocurrency tracking techniques.

An additional 337 site users were arrested across the US as well as in country’s including the UK, South Korea, Germany, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic, Canada, Ireland, Spain, Brazil and Australia.

As well as the arrest of users of the site, the operation to close down the three-year old paedophile film network also led to the rescue of least 23 child victims of abuse in the US, Spain and the UK.

Son was arrested in March last year in South Korea in an operation that resulted in the seizure some eight terabytes of child sexual exploitation material, which the DoJ said was one of the largest such discoveries of its kind.

Specialists at the US National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) examined the material and found the site contained over 250,000 unique videos, 45% of which featured new images that had not been previously known to exist.

The website offered access to this content in exchange for payment in Bitcoin.

Analysis of the server that hosted Welcome to Video revealed that the site had more than one million Bitcoin addresses, suggesting it had the capacity for at least one million users.

Commenting on the shutdown of the site, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Acting Executive Associate Director Alysa Erichs said: “Children are our most vulnerable population, and crimes such as these are unthinkable.

“Sadly, advances in technology have enabled child predators to hide behind the dark web and cryptocurrency to further their criminal activity.

“However, today’s indictment sends a strong message to criminals that no matter how sophisticated the technology or how widespread the network, child exploitation will not be tolerated in the United States.

“Our entire justice system will stop at nothing to prevent these heinous crimes, safeguard our children, and bring justice to all.”

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Two men charged with poaching offences after investigators in Florida seize 600 turtles

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investigators in Florida seize 600 turtles

Authorities in Florida have charged two men suspected of illegally selling more than 4,000 turtles over on six-month period with poaching offences.

The suspects were arrested after officers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) were handed intelligence in February last year that a ring of wildlife traffickers was poaching native species of turtle before selling them to reptile dealers and illegal distributors.

The animals would then be shipped overseas to be sold on the black market.

During a raid that led to the men’s arrest, FWC investigators seized more than 600 live turtles, as well as the skull and shell of a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, which is an endangered species.

The FWC said the species the men stand accused of poaching and selling include Florida box turtles, Eastern box turtles, striped mud turtles, Florida mud turtles, chicken turtles, Florida softshell turtles, Gulf Coast spiny softshell turtles, spotted turtles and diamondback terrapins.

The turtles seized during the operation, which had an estimated black-market value of $200,000, were returned to their natural environment, with almost 300 becoming part of a long-term monitoring project led by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.

In a statement on its website, the FWC said the turtles the men sold were offered for a wholesale price of $300 each, but could fetch as much as $10,000 on the Asian black market.

Over the course of just one month, the men are thought to have sold turtles estimated to be worth some $60,000.

Dr Craig Stanford, Chairman of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group, said: “We know that the global black market in live animals includes traffickers smuggling protected species of turtles out of the United States, usually for export to the Asian pet market.

“This sinister and illegal trade threatens the future of many species of North American animals, and as one of the most threatened animal groups on the planet, turtles are at the forefront of our concern.”

In July of last year, a US court 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 cabin crew members were arrested while passing through Los Angeles International Airport after border guards found 31 live spotted turtles and 14 live box turtles hidden inside pillowcases and plastic bags in their luggage.

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