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European crackdown on ‘Ndrangheta mafia clan results in over 90 arrests

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European crackdown on 'Ndrangheta mafia clan

A Europe-wide crackdown on the activities of Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta mafia clan has resulted in the arrest of scores of suspected members of the feared group.

The Europol-supported Operation Pollino yesterday saw law enforcement officials in Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxemburg and the Netherlands launch a series of early-morning coordinated raids that resulted in the detention of at least 90 suspects, and the seizure of over three tonnes of cocaine and 140kgs of ecstasy.

In a statement, Europol said the operation was the largest of its kind ever to have taken place in Europe, involving hundreds of police officers and the deployment of a number of special intervention units.

Police said they had detained a number of high-ranking members of the ‘Ndrangheta clan during the day of action, and that they expect the operation will result in the confiscation of criminal assets worth millions of euros.

Slightly under half of those detained were attested in Italy, while law enforcement officers in Germany carried more than 60 raids on the day, arresting 14 suspects.

According to Eurojust – the European judicial cooperation body involved, the operation had been underway since 2016.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Filippo Spiezia, Vice-President of Eurojust and National Member for Italy, said: ‘Today, we send a clear message to organised crime groups across Europe.

“They are not the only ones able to operate across borders: so are Europe’s judiciary and law enforcement communities.

“By working together and using the unique tools at our disposal in the EU, such as the possibility to form a Joint Investigation Team and with the practical support through EU agencies like Eurojust and Europol, we are able to detect, investigate and prosecute this kind of serious, organised crime.”

While the ‘Ndràngheta mafia clan originates from the south of Italy, it has grown to become an international criminal organisation that is now thought to operate all over the world, with interests in countries spanning from Canada to Australia.

The network is said to establish itself in new territories by first starting legitimate businesses to act as cover for its illegal activities.

Having done so, members of the group then set about taking control of local drugs markets and other illicit trades.

The ‘Ndrangheta then invests the profits from its illegal activities in further additional legitimate businesses, helping the organisation to strengthen its base in the countries in to which it chooses to expand into.

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Iran threatens to flood Europe with drugs and migrants following US sanctions

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Iran threatens to flood Europe with drugs

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has threatened to flood Europe with heroin, migrants and terrorists in revenge for sanctions imposed on the country by the US over Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme.

Addressing a six-nation counter-terrorism conference in Tehran attended by lawmakers from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, China and Russia over the weekend, Rouhani told delegates that crippling US sanctions would prevent Iran’s security services from stopping drug traffickers and people smugglers targeting western countries, noting how the criminal groups behind such trades are often linked to terrorist groups.

In a speech that was carried by state TV, Rouhani said: “Weakening Iran by sanctions, many will not be safe. Those who do not believe us, it is good to look at the map.”

He added: “Imagine what a disaster there would be if there is a breach in the dam.

“I warn those who impose sanctions that if Iran’s ability to fight drugs and terrorism are affected…, you will not be safe from a deluge of drugs, asylum seekers, bombs and terrorism.”

While Iran is by no means a major drug-producing nation, large quantities of opium pass through the country on major smuggling routes that link Afghanistan and Pakistan with Europe.

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, the primary ingredient of heroin, with Helmand Province, which is close to the border with Iran, being the country’s largest opium-producing region.

Iran claims to incinerate around 100 tonnes of seized drugs every year as a symbol of its determination to halt the flow of narcotics through trafficking routes that cross its borders.

In June 2017, Iranian media reported that drug addiction across the country had more than doubled over the previous six years, with research showing that approximately 2.8 million Iranians were regularly consuming drugs.

Iran also serves as a major hub on a number of people smuggling routes used by migrants looking to make their way to Turkey.

Many of these asylum seekers pay large sums of money to people smuggling gangs, some of which are thought to be closely linked to terrorist organisations.

Over recent weeks, scores of mostly Iranian migrants have been picked in flimsy boats while attempting to cross the English Channel from the French border town of Calais.

Rouhani said worsening economic conditions in Iran brought about by the sanctions had led to an increase in the number of migrants illegally crossing the border from Iran into Turkey since the summer.

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Customs officers on US-Mexico border intercept multiple shipments of methamphetamine worth more than $1.2 million

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methamphetamine worth more than $1.2 million

US customs officers in California yesterday said they had arrested multiple people on suspicion of smuggling methamphetamine into the US at an immigration checkpoint close to the Mexican border over the weekend.

In the first incident, officials from US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pulled over an unlicensed taxi carrying a female passenger on Saturday morning.

The vehicle was referred for a detailed inspection, during which a sniffer dog alerted officers to the possibility of drugs being present around the passenger side of the vehicle.

After asking the female passenger to step out of the taxi, officers discovered three packages of suspected methamphetamine weighing approximately 1.8kgs strapped to her stomach.

Later on Saturday, a female driver was stopped in a Nissan Altima.

During a secondary search of her vehicle, sniffer dogs alerted their handlers to 17 packages of suspected methamphetamine weighing more than 10kgs wrapped in brown tape close to the dashboard.

On Sunday morning, a US woman who approached the checkpoint in a Nissan Altima was found by customs officers to be carrying several packages containing suspected methamphetamine weighing nearly 26kgs hidden beneath the vehicle’s floorboard.

A few hours later on Sunday evening, another unlicensed taxi that approached the checkpoint was referred for further inspection.

This resulted in the discovery of a black package containing nearly 1.5kgs of suspected methamphetamine strapped to the stomach of a 16-year-old US citizen.

The drugs in all of the packages, which tests later confirmed contained methamphetamine, had a combined weight of nearly 40kgs, and an estimated value of $228,085.

Commenting on the seizures, Chief Patrol Agent Gloria Chavez said: “Our Border Patrol agents from the Indio Station did an outstanding job of interdicting almost 90 pounds of methamphetamine over the weekend.

“Drug smugglers going through our checkpoints will be caught and charged to the fullest extent of the law.”

Separately, the CBP on Monday announced that its officers had intercepted methamphetamine with an estimated street value of more than $992,000 at the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge in Texas.

The drugs were confiscated on Saturday from a 40-year-old Mexican woman driving a 2012 Nissan Versa.

She was found to be carrying more than 22kgs of methamphetamine before being handed over to agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further investigation.

“I congratulate our frontline officers for their firm commitment to carry out the CBP mission and protect the public from illegal narcotics,” said Port Director Albert Flores, Laredo Port of Entry.

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Police in Europe arrest hundreds in operation targeting euro banknote dark web counterfeiters

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euro banknote dark web counterfeiters

Police forces across Europe have participated in a major joint operation targeting euro banknote counterfeiters operating on dark web illicit marketplaces.

A series of Europol-backed days of action, which took place from 19 November to 6 December, involved raids on more than 300 properties in 13 countries, resulting in the arrests of 235 suspects.

During the raids, a number of criminal assets were seized, including €1,500 (£1,713) in cash, a quantity of drugs, electronic devices including smartphones and computers, Bitcoin, and equipment that had been used for the mining of cryptocurrencies.

A number of weapons were also confiscated during the raids, including guns, knives and nunchaku.

German investigators involved in the operation also discovered two cannabis factories, while police in France uncovered an illegal euro counterfeiting print shop, as well as a marijuana planation.

The crackdown was launched after police in Austria dismantled an illegal banknote print shop in the city of Leoben in June of this year.

The owner of the shop is said to have been producing bogus euro banknotes of various denominations before offering them for sale on dark web marketplaces.

It is thought the Austrian counterfeiter sold some 10,000 fake banknotes to customers all over Europe.

After being handed evidence seized during the raid in Austria, Europol analysed data obtained from the alleged counterfeiter’s computer and decided to launch a coordinated operation targeting other bogus banknote traders in a number of EU countries, including Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.

Congratulating officers who took part in the operation, Europol Deputy Executive Director of Operations Wil van Gemert said in a statement: “This joint effort highlights that complete anonymity on the internet and the dark net doesn’t exist.

“When you engage in illegal activity online, be prepared to have police knocking on your door sooner or later.

“Europol will continue to assist member states in their efforts of protecting the euro against counterfeiting, both in the real world as in the virtual one.”

Back in September, Europol announced that Polish police had taken down an illegal print shop in Gdansk that had been producing fake €50 banknotes.

The law enforcement agency said the alleged owner of the facility had been selling counterfeits on a number of dark web platforms for many years, and had built up a strong reputation.

He is currently facing up to 25 years behind bars.

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