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Genetic tests reveal three cartels control majority of African ivory smuggling trade

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African ivory smuggling trade

DNA tests carried out by researchers at the University of Washington on seized illicit ivory shipments have revealed that three major criminal networks dominate an international trade in animal products that is driving the slaughter of elephants in Africa.

In a paper published in Science Advances, the scientists explain how they were able to use data obtained through a DNA testing programme to determine that the majority of illegal African ivory shipments intercepted over a three-year period originated from three major smuggling cartels operating out of Mombasa, Kenya; Entebbe, Uganda; and Lomé, Togo.

The researchers also revealed that the wildlife smugglings behind the trade routinely spilt pairs of tusks into separate shipments of ivory, but were unable to explain the reasoning behind this.

Of the 38 large ivory seizures analysed by the team, 11 could be linked together by identifying tusk pairs that had been separated prior to shipping.

Lead author of the study, Samuel Wasser, Director of the University of Washington Center for Conservation Biology and a professor of biology, commented: “Our prior work on DNA testing of illegal ivory shipments showed that the major elephant ‘poaching hotspots’ in Africa were relatively few in number.

“Now, we’ve shown that the number and location of the major networks smuggling these large shipments of ivory out of Africa are also relatively few.”

Wasser said the ability to link ivory shipments in this manner will help law enforcement authorities gather evidence against the major wildlife trafficking cartels that are behind the majority of the large shipments of ivory originating from Africa.

“Most of these big criminals, when they’re finally taken down, it’s for financial crimes. When you’re following the money, you need to know the connections between all of these seizures, and that’s one of the real powers of this method we have developed,” he said.

According to a 2013 study published by PLOS ONE, large shipments currently dominate the illegal ivory trade, with consignments of at least half a tonne making some 70% of seizures between 1996 and 2011.

In November last year, researchers working on the international Barcode of Life (iBoL) project announced  that they had developed a portable DNA test designed to help border control officers identify animal and plant species being trafficked through customs checks by wildlife smugglers.

The Lab-in-a-Box portable DNA barcoding kit is designed to identify plant and animal species by analysing key points on their genome, making the process cheaper and quicker for customs officers in developing countries.

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Organised crime police in Australia seize 1.5 tonnes of smuggled tobacco worth A$1.5 million

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1.5 tonnes of smuggled tobacco
1.5 tonnes of smuggled tobacco

Police in Australia discovered a 1.5-tonne consignment of illicit tobacco estimated to be worth A$1.5 million ($1.01 million) in Sydney’s south west earlier this week, according to a statement from New South Wales Police.

Officers from the force’s Strike Force Raptor, which is dedicated to targeting organised criminal activity connected with the country’s motorcycle gangs, found the huge haul after conducting a raid on an industrial unit in the Fairfield district of the city on Tuesday.

Detectives searching the premises after executing a warrant came across 73 boxes that were found to contain loose tobacco weighing almost 1.5 tonnes.

Police said the tobacco was impounded and taken away for further analysis, adding that no arrests had been made in connection with the shipment.

In May of last year, authorities in Australia launched a crackdown on the sale of illicit tobacco that the country’s government said it hoped would raise some A$3.6 billion over a four-year period.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said at the time that the initiative would see the government take action to prevent the sale of the 864 tonnes of illicit tobacco that was estimated to make it past the country’s customs agencies every year.

Kelly O’Dwyer, who was the nation’s Minister for Revenue and Financial Services at the time, said: “These measures will shut down the avenues that organised crime syndicates have to access illicit tobacco to fund criminal activity.”

Just months later, officers from Australian Border Force announced that they had arrested a man in connection with the discovery of a record haul of 9.5 million smuggled cigarettes, which were found concealed inside a container in a port city of Fremantle in Western Australia.

The illicit cigarettes, which were thought to have been made in Southeast Asia, would have cost the Australian treasury A$7.66 million in evaded duty had they made it onto the country’s black market.

Earlier this month, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) released a report that revealed law enforcement agencies across the country confiscated 30.6 tonnes of illicit drugs last year, noting that methamphetamine remained one of the most consumed and seized illicit drugs in the nation.

Michael Phelan, ACIC CEO, commented: “The estimated street value of the weight of amphetamines, MDMA, cocaine and heroin seized nationally in 2017–18 is nearly $5 billion, underlining the size of the black economy that relates to illicit drugs alone.”

The seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report, which was released in June by the ACIC, found that Australians are now using twice as much methamphetamine as any other illegal drug.

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Two men jailed over conspiracy to smuggle pig semen hidden in shampoo bottles into Australia

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conspiracy to smuggle pig semen

A court in Australia has jailed two men for illegally importing pig semen from Denmark in shampoo bottles.

Torben Soerensen, Director of pig farm GD Pork, and the company’s Breeding Manager Henning Laue were jailed for a minimum of 18 months and eight months respectively at Perth District Court yesterday over their involvement in the importation of a biosecurity hazard.

GD Pork, which is now in liquidation, was handed a fine of A$500,000 ($338,284).

Prosecutors told the court that the pair had illegally imported the pig semen from the Scandinavian country on numerous occasions between 2009 and 2017 for use in GD Pork’s artificial breeding programme.

Investigators discovered that several of the firm’s breeding sows were direct offspring of Danish boars.

The court was told the ringleaders of the plot were investors in GD Pork’s Danish parent company, who Judge Troy Sweeney said would have faced far stiffer penalties than Soerensen and Henning had they not been beyond the reach of Australian law.

Soerensen, Henning and their co-conspirators plotted to import the semen into Australia on account of the fact that Danish pigs typically produce seven more piglets per year than the indigenous species.

The Australian government upholds strict biosecurity rules, which dictate that the country’s pig stocks must be “closed genetic herds” in order to prevent the spread of disease.

The rules are intended to prevent the importation of so-called “pig plague” into the country, which originated in the US before spreading across Western Europe and can cause infertility, stillborn piglets and pneumonia.

Australian Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie said the Australian Government takes any breach of biosecurity legislation seriously, adding: “This case shows a disturbing disregard for the laws that protect the livelihoods of Australia’s 2,700 pork producers, and the quality of the pork that millions of Australians enjoy each year.

“The penalties handed down at the District Court of Western Australia today send a clear message that breaches of Australia’s biosecurity rules will not be tolerated…

“GD Pork imported the semen illegally in an attempt to get an unfair advantage over its competitors, through new genetics.

“These actions could have also exposed Australia’s agricultural industries, environment and the community to serious biosecurity risk.”

A spokesperson from the Western Australian Farmers Federation said the semen smuggling plot was “extremely disappointing” and “a selfish act” that could have seriously damaged the Australian pig farming industry.

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British police warn social media users not to mock drug dealer’s receding hairline

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mock drug dealer’s receding hairline

Police in the UK have warned social media users not to make fun of the receding hairline of a wanted drug dealer whose mugshot they posted online.

Gwent Police last week used Facebook to ask members of the public to help locate drug dealer Jermaine Taylor, who was being recalled to jail after breaching the conditions of his release licence.

Alongside its appeal, the force posted an image of Taylor sporting a thinning head of hair styled in a peculiar fashion, which readers of Gwent Police’s Facebook profile proceeded to mock incessantly.

Before being taken down, the post appealing for information that might lead to the apprehension of the 21-year-old had attracted more than 10,000 Facebook “likes”, tens of thousands of comments and over 14,000 shares.

“Push his release date back further than his hairline, that should teach him,” one user wrote.

Another quipped: “What is it with prisoners released on licence, hair today gone tomorrow…”

The popularity of the post and mean nature of some of the comments posted beneath it prompted Gwent Police to issue a statement warning social media users they could face prosecution if they are nasty to people online.

“We’re really grateful to everyone who is assisting us in locating Jermaine Taylor, and we must admit a few of these comments have made us laugh,” the force said.

“However, when the line is crossed from being funny to abusive, we do have to make sure we are responsible and remind people to be careful about what they write on social media.

“If you say something about someone which is grossly offensive or is of an indecent, obscene or menacing character, then you could be investigated by the police.”

The statement attracted further light-hearted comments, with one Facebook user posting: “Can’t work out what’s thinner. This guy’s hair or Gwent Police’s skin?”

Numerous UK police forces have faced criticism over recent years for targeting internet trolls at a time when violent crime is rocketing across Britain.

In September last year, Chairman of the UK Police Federation John Apter told the Daily Telegraph that detectives in Britain are so busy dealing with trivial matters on the internet that they are unable to tackle real crime.

He spoke out just weeks after South Yorkshire Police encouraged people to report “non-crime hate incidents”, which it said “can include things like offensive or insulting comments, online, in person or in writing”.

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