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Venezuelan drivers left frustrated as counter-fuel trafficking payment system falls flat

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counter-fuel trafficking payment system

Venezuelan motorists faced frustration yesterday as the test rollout of a gasoline sales system designed to prevent rampant fuel smuggling failed to perform on its first day of operation.

President Nicolas Maduro has said the introduction of new payment machines is a vital step towards the government’s goal of increasing its domestic fuel prices to international levels.

Drivers lining up to use the new machines at gas stations close to the country’s border with Colombia said many of the units had not been installed or were not functioning properly.

Oil-producing Venezuela has offered its citizens heavily-subsidised petrol for decades, resulting in its fuel prices remaining relatively flat for years, despite the country facing runaway hyperinflation.

Maduro last month said the nation’s fuel prices needed to rise to international levels to prevent smugglers cheating the country out of billions of dollars by trafficking gasoline to neighbouring countries.

Organised fuel trafficking gangs are currently able to quadruple their money by smuggling gasoline across the country’s borders, in a racket that carries far less severe penalties than other illegal activities such as drug dealing.

Illicit fuel smuggling has become more lucrative than drug smuggling in Venezuela.

Speaking on Monday, Maduro said fuel prices will rise to international levels by October, in a move that will prevent the country’s drivers from filling up their tanks nearly 9,000 times for the equivalent price of a cup of coffee.

“During the course of September, October, once that system is working, we will establish the subsidy systems and the price of gasoline will be set at the international price,” Reuters quotes Maduro as saying during a televised broadcast.

The huge hike in prices is intended to prevent traffickers making massive profits for smuggling fuel out of Venezuela to be sold at market value in neighbouring countries, as the nation attempts to boost its coffers in the face of falling oil production.

It is estimated that the Venezuelan economy loses some $18 billion every year to fuel trafficking.

Maduro has promised that citizens holding a state-issued identification card will continue to be able to access direct fuel subsidies, but many Venezuelans have refused to use the ID cards, alleging they are used by officials to monitor them.

“Anyone who does not respond to the call for this census, who does not wish to participate in the direct subsidy, will have to pay for gasoline at the international rate,” Maduro said.

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Rampant poaching decimates South African sea snail populations

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poaching decimates South African sea snail populations

Poachers have stolen 96 million abalone sea snails from the coastal waters of South Africa over the past 18 years, leading to a huge collapse in numbers of a species that was once abundant in the region, according to a new report from illegal wildlife trade monitoring NGO Traffic.

The study found that 90% of seas snails smuggled out of South Africa make their way to Hong Kong, where the animal’s meat is considered a delicacy, as it is in many other Asian nations.

Traffic estimates that poachers in South Africa are typically responsible for the disappearance of 2,000 tonnes of abalone every year, more than 20 times the amount that is allowed to be farmed legally.

In total, the illicit market is thought to be worth some $60 million annually.

Traffic’s report, which has been released alongside a documentary that explores the illegal trade, warns that the rocketing illegal harvesting of the animal is resulting in a huge annual loss for the local economy, and is at least partly being controlled by organised crime networks.

According to the study, an average of at least one abalone seizure took place every day between 2000 and 2016.

“Continued illegal harvesting and associated trade will have devastating impacts on abalone stocks and far-reaching negative socio-economic consequences for coastal communities whose economies, to a greater or lesser extent, are dependent on the proceeds of abalone poaching and trade,” the study says.

Noting the trade’s link to organised criminal cartels, it said: “Seizures of abalone often involved seizures of other contraband, commonly cash, cars or drugs.

“A number of seizures have included other high-value wildlife products, suggesting that the syndicates involved are not only focusing on the trade in poached abalone.”

Concluding its report, Traffic makes a number of recommendations, including the establishment of traceability systems, regional collaboration with neighbouring countries to prevent the smuggling of abalone, and the setting up of state-driven socio-economic initiatives to stem poaching of the animal.

Abalone can fetch more than $550 a plate in parts of Asia, driving many poor South Africans to take up poaching, risking their lives by diving in search of the in-demand mollusc.

The decline in local populations of sea snails has also been hit by the presence of Asian organised crime groups, who have moved into the area to take advantage of increasing demand for the animal in their home countries.

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No-deal Brexit could hit UK’s ability to tackle organised crime and terrorism, police warn

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The UK’s ability to tackle terrorism sand serious organised crime will be severely hampered by a hard Brexit, British police chiefs have warned.

Pulling out of the EU without a deal could see UK law enforcement agencies and security services lose access to vital crime-fighting tools such as the European Arrest Warrant, the Schengen Information System, the bloc’s intelligence systems and data held by Europol.

Announcing a new £2 million ($2.6 million) unit that will explore how alternative systems could be used if no deal is struck between the EU and Britain before the end of next March, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) Sara Thornton said: “The fallbacks we’re going to have to use will be slower, will be more bureaucratic and it will make it harder for us to protect UK citizens and make it harder to protect EU citizens.”

“We are determined to do everything we can to mitigate that, but it will be hard.”

Using the recent Salisbury Novichok attack as an example of how a no-deal Brexit could impact UK police operations, Thornton noted how much more difficult it would be for Britain to detain the two men suspected of carrying it out should they enter the EU without a European Arrest Warrant in place.

The new unit will examine the effectiveness of non-EU crime fighting institutions and mechanisms, such as Interpol, bilateral channels and Council of Europe conventions.

In a statement on the contingency plans, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said the withdrawal of resources such as the European Criminal Records Information System and the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Crime Threats would seriously impact Britain’s ability “to track criminals’ movements, monitor sex offenders and locate fugitives”.

“European law enforcement is more effective when we take coordinated action against shared priorities,” said Steve Rodhouse, NCA Director General of Operations.

“A lack of access to these European tools would mean a reduction in the ability of the UK to contribute to keeping Europe safe.”

In May, the Times of London reported that France had attempted to block British attempts to remain part of EU security systems after Brexit, quoting one UK government official as saying: “Normally France is quite helpful when it comes to security co-operation but on this they are being awkward.”

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Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike over smuggling fears

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Indian officials rule out gold import fee hike

The Indian Government has said it is considering taking action to slow the importation of gold into the country, but wants to avoid an increase in importation duties due to fears over smuggling.

A source told India’s PTI news agency that officials are instead considering alternative policy interventions to curb imports, which are having an adverse effect on the value of the rupee.

“There is not much scope for hike in import duty on gold,” the source said.

“Rather, it would be some kind of policy measures to reduce gold import. Higher import duty on gold may increase smuggling activities.”

While failing to specify the measures the Government is considering, the source said raising import duty on gold so close to the festive season would likely result in an increase in smuggling attempts.

Indian officials are due this week to announce a new list of items that will be subject to importation limits as part of wider efforts to cut the country’s growing current account deficit, and stem the fall of the rupee.

A comprehensive list of non-essential items are being considered, including steel, finished steel, furniture, electronics and a number of food items.

The smuggling of gold into India has rocketed over recent years after the Government hiked import duties to 10% in 2013 as part of an earlier effort to cut the country’s current account deficit.

According to the World Gold Council, traffickers smuggled some 120 tons of gold into India last year, with nearly the same amount expected in 2018.

In October last year, customs officers arrested 11 gold mules from Sri Lanka at Madurai Airport who were attempting to smuggle precious metal into the country concealed with their rectums.

Earlier this year, a cabin crew worker from Singapore Airlines was detained at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport on suspicion of attempting to smuggle gold into the country.

After searching the flight steward, customs officers discovered gold weighing 1.05kg worth an estimated 3.1 million rupees ($50,000), according to the airport’s Joint Commissioner of Customs Anubha Singh.

Commenting at the time, a Singapore Airlines spokesperson confirmed that a member of its cabin crew staff had been detained by Delhi customs authorities, adding: “Singapore Airlines will provide full co-operation to the investigating authorities. We are unable to provide details of the crew member concerned due to confidentiality reasons.”

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