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Western Balkans crackdown on organised criminals sees people smugglers, drug traffickers and arms dealers rounded up

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European crackdown on 'Ndrangheta mafia clan

A Europol-backed operation targeting criminals across the Western Balkans has resulted in the arrest of people smugglers, drug traffickers, gun dealers and document fraudsters.

A number of Joint Action Days (JADs) coordinated by Europol, Frontex and Interpol involving 8,300 officers from 28 countries saw 180 people arrested, and the seizure of 159 firearms, explosives and 286kgs of drugs.

Throughout the operation, which took place between 5 and 9 September, investigators checked more than 482,000 people, vehicles, premises and parcels against existing crime databases.

Every country across the Western Balkan took part in the operation, namely Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Serbia.

Twenty EU Member States were also involved in the effort, which was supported in addition by Switzerland and the US.

As a result of the operation, police have started 21 fresh investigations into a number of crimes, with more probes expected to be launched soon.

The total number of arrests made will most likely rise as a consequence.

In a statement, Europol said: “From 5 to 9 September 2018, a coordination centre was set up at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague.

“It was attended by 44 officers from the majority of the participating countries, Frontex, Interpol.

“Fifty-six representatives from Frontex accompanied officers on the ground. The preparatory phase began in early 2018 with several operational meetings and intelligence-gathering activities.

“During this phase, several hundred pieces of information (persons, phone numbers, documents, etc.) were exchanged between all partners, 32 suspects were arrested, 102 firearms seized and 60 houses searched.”

News of the operation was made public after a meeting in Belgrade during which Serbian officials and representatives from Interpol discussed how they could work together to reduce crime.

Interpol President Meng Hongwei met with Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, Prime Minister Ana Brnabić and Minister of the Interior Nebojša Stefanović during a three-day trip to Belgrade last week.

After discussing a range of security issues, President Meng said: “Serbia has been actively supporting Interpol’s initiatives and is playing a key role regarding security in the region.

“We will continue to maintain a high degree of cooperation to deal with all forms of transnational crimes, including emerging crimes.”

Speaking after a meeting with President Meng, Serbian Internal Affairs Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said his country’s police force had arrested 149 people on Interpol warrants so far this year.

Stefanovic added that Serbia intends to introduce more efficient procedures to improve its crime-fighting cooperation with other countries.

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Singaporean woman facing 20 years in jail for printing homemade bogus banknotes

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A woman in Singapore is facing as many as 20 years behind bars after police arrested her on suspicion of printing her own homemade counterfeit banknotes.

Officers from the Singapore Police Force (SPF) detained the 30-year-old after receiving multiple reports of attempts to pass off fake S$50 ($37) notes at various retail outlets across the Hougang and Tampines housing estates.

After carrying out enquires, investigators from the SPF’s Commercial Affairs Department identified the woman as the source of the bogus banknotes and proceeded to arrest her.

Police seized two suspected fake banknotes, a printer, stationery, two handbags, and more than S$1,200 in cash from the woman.

The SDF believes she used the printer to produce the fake S$50 notes, which she then proceeded to spend on several low-value items on at least 10 occasions.

She also stands accused of being involved in a theft that took place back in February.

The woman was charged with counterfeiting banknotes and then using them, offences that can be punished in Singapore with a maximum prison term of 20 years and a large fine.

In a statement, the SDF warned members of the public to remain vigilant for people attempting to pass off counterfeit banknotes, and to call police should they be presented with what they suspect may be fake currency.

“Preliminary investigations revealed that the woman is believed to have printed several pieces of S$50 notes with her own printer and used the counterfeit S$50 notes on at least 10 occasions to purchase items of low value,” the SDF said.

“Two pieces of S$50 notes, which are believed to be counterfeits, a printer, printing paper, stationery, apparel, an EZ-link card, cash amounting to more than S$1,200 and two handbags were seized as case exhibits.”

Earlier this month, the SDF said it had received multiple reports of people attempting to spend bogus S$50 and S$100 banknotes at convenience stores, restaurants and retail outlets in a number of locations.

The force said it had arrested and charged three men aged between 25 and 29 in connection with the reports, which it said related to currency that appeared to have been photocopied and lacked security features such as watermarks and security threads.

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Drug traffickers using private airstrips and ports in the Philippines to import narcotics, authorities warn

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drug traffickers using private airstrips

Drug investigators in the Philippines are introducing new measures intended to prevent the importation of illicit substances through the country’s hundreds of private airstrips and ports, according to the country’s state-run news agency.

In an interview published on Friday, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) boss Aaron Aquino said traffickers are routinely using unmanned runways and private ports as landing spots for private airplanes, seaplanes and yachts carrying large quantities of illegal drugs.

Aquino raised his concerns after the issue was discussed during the Philippines’ Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs (ICAD) Enforcement Cluster Meeting, which was held earlier this month in Quezon City.

The PDEA is now lobbying for the establishment of a new inter-agency taskforce designed to stop drug traffickers from using the country’s 1,200 private ports as entry points.

“Before, drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) are shipping tons of illegal drugs, either finished products or raw materials, through shipside smuggling in the high seas, airports and seaports. But now, they have included in their itineraries unmanned landing strips and private ports as drug transit routes,” Aquino said.

“Airstrips have no airport facilities that is why proper documentation of the name of the arriving passenger/s, cargo details, among others, remains a problem. There is also a possibility that foreign chemists flew in and out of the country via the backdoor using the runways and open seas.”

Separately, the Philippine Information Agency has announced that the PDEA has opened a dedicated rehabilitation centre for glue sniffers in Quezon City.

Opening the Sagip Batang Solvent Reformation Centre, Aquino said the facility would help take children and young people off the street and keep them away from drug use.

Workers at the new site will offer reformative care and reintegrated interventions such as education, counselling, values formation and skills development.

The centre is currently treating 28 solvent abusers, the youngest of whom is aged just 11, the PDEA said.

Impoverished children living in slums across the Philippines regularly sniff glue as a means by which to alleviate their hunger and escape from the squalid nature of their environment.

The industrial solvents they inhale can cause sudden death, brain damage, memory loss and harm to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver.

Children addicted to glue and other solvents in the Philippines often fund their habits through petty crime such as street robberies, extortion and drug dealing.

Earlier this month, the PDEA launched a new programme that will see solvent abusers housed in government institutions until they address their addictions.

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Global food fraud crackdown results in seizure of goods worth $117 million and arrest of 672 suspects

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global food fraud crackdown

Fake food and drink products estimated to be worth $117 million have been seized during a global coordinated crackdown on food fraud coordinated by Interpol and Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordination Centre.

Law enforcement officials taking part in the latest instalment of Operation Opson, which is intended to target criminals involved in the sale of counterfeit and substandard food and drink products, also arrested 672 individuals across the world.

Taking place between December 2018 and April this year, Operation Opson VIII saw police, customs officers, food regulatory authorities and private sector partners in 78 countries target individuals and organisations involved in the growing global food fraud trade.

Investigators participating in the effort successfully removed approximately 16, 000 tonnes and 33 million litres of potentially dangerous fake food and drink from global supply chains after collectively carrying out over 67,000 inspections at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates.

Authorities contributing to the operation reported discovering cheese and chicken products labelled with fraudulent expiry dates, drink products that had been adulterated with controlled drugs, and meat that was stored in unsanitary conditions.

In Zimbabwe, police confiscated more than 14,000 litres of soft drinks that contained high levels of the active ingredient in erectile dysfunction medication, while investigators in Belarus impounded more than 60 tonnes of apples that were being transported under forged documentation.

Law enforcement officers in Russia seized 4,200 litres of counterfeit alcohol as they shut down an illicit vodka production site, while their colleagues in South Africa detained three suspects in connection with the discovery of alcohol meant for export that had been repackaged and sold domestically to avoid taxes.

Elsewhere, customs investigators in Italy seized over 150,000 litres of poor-quality sunflower oil that fraudsters had attempted to pass off as extra virgin oil by adding chlorophyll and beta-carotene to the finished product.

Revealing the results of the latest Opson operation in a statement, Interpol Director of Organised and Emerging Crime Paul Stanfield said: “Counterfeit and substandard food and beverages can be found on the shelves in shops around the world, and their increasing sale online is exacerbating the threat that food crime poses to the public.

“Operation Opson VIII saw a substantial amount of counterfeit food and drink taken out of circulation, but there is much more that can be done.

“Interpol calls for further efforts and better coordination at the national, regional and international levels in order to stem this tide which endangers the health of consumers worldwide.”

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