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Interpol-backed operation results in arrest of 49 people smuggling suspects across Americas

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Interpol-backed operation results in arrest of 49 people smuggling suspects

An Interpol-backed operation targeting migrant smuggling gangs across the Americas has resulted in the arrest of 49 suspected people traffickers.

Operation Andes, which took place over four days at the end of November, saw investigators across 11 countries conduct nearly 44,000 checks at air, land and sea borders in order to identify and disrupt smuggling routes and the organised crime networks behind them.

Planning for the operation began in Columbia back in February, when Interpol officials met in the country and agreed sufficient evidence had been gathered to suggest that organised crime gangs were trafficking migrants from South Asia through the Americas and into the US.

Before the operation took place, 31 people were arrested in Columbia on suspicion of migrant trafficking after police uncovered illicit transactions worth $2 million, an amount Interpol said highlighted the huge profits to be made from the illicit trade.

Intelligence gathered during the operation revealed that smuggling gangs were charging migrants from countries including India, Nepal and Bangladesh up to $30,000 for entry into the US.

Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock commented: “With another 13 investigations opened across the region, what we are seeing is just the tip of the iceberg.

“As a direct result of Operation Andes, we are confident the results will grow in the coming months, striking a blow to the criminal structures who seek to profit from the vulnerabilities of others.

“This is a perfect example of what can be achieved through international police cooperation via Interpol, with Colombia’s initial investigations and outreach making this possible.”

As well the arrest of suspected migrant smugglers, the operation also resulted in the detention of a number of people in relation to a number of other crimes.

Investigators taking part in the action arrested four people who had been made the subjects of Interpol Red Notices in relation to investigations linked to murder and terrorism.

In Colombia, investigators held six Israelis and two Colombians on suspicion of facilitating the passage of travelling sex offenders and exploiting young women and girls in Colombia.

Elsewhere, police in the Dominican Republic rescued 30 potential victims of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

The women are said to have been lured from Venezuela after being offered well-paid legitimate work, only to have their passports confiscated before being forced to work as prostitutes.

In El Salvador, a man with connections to a paedophile ring that shares indecent images of children online was arrested on charges of possession of child sexual abuse material.

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Customs officers in Taiwan catch woman smuggling dozens of gerbils strapped to her legs

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smuggling dozens of gerbils

Coastguard officials on the Taiwanese island of Kinmen have caught a woman attempting to smuggle 24 gerbils in small bags strapped to legs.

Reportedly returning from a trip to mainland China, the 60-year-old Taiwanese woman was pulled aside for questioning after customs officers noticed that she walking in a strange way and acting nervously.

During a search of the woman, officials were surprised to find the animals individually wrapped in plastic bags that had been strapped to her legs and concealed underneath a long skirt.

The woman, identified by local media outlets only as Wu, is said to have claimed that she smuggled the gerbils into the country on behalf of friends having purchased them from a pet shop in China.

She is reported to have confessed to buying each gerbil at a price of 50 Chinese yuan ($7.38) for a male, and 150 Chinese yuan for a female.

In Taiwan, the going rate for a male gerbil is the equivalent of around $16, while a female can fetch up to double that amount.

Wu is said to have told investigators that she was paid a fee of 60 Chinese yuan to smuggle each gerbil into Taiwan.

Noting how the woman was unable to identify who she was smuggling the animals for, coastguard officials said she may have been testing security procedures at the port on behalf of a smuggling gang that may be planning to sneak other contraband past customs officials.

After being questioned by coastguard investigators, the woman was passed to the local prosecutor’s office and charged with violating Taiwan’s Infectious Animal Disease Prevention and Control Act.

The gerbils she attempted to sneak into the country were later destroyed.

In a similar incident earlier this month, customs officers caught a man attempting to cross from Malaysia into Singapore with four kittens stuffed down the front of his trousers.

In a statement issued on Facebook, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) of Singapore said: “On 2 January, ICA officers detected four live kittens concealed in the pants of a 45-year-old male Singaporean in a Singapore-registered car at Tuas Checkpoint.

“Officers were prompted to conduct further checks when they heard ‘meowing’ sounds coming from a bulge in his pants.

“The case was referred to Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) for investigation. The kittens are now under the care and quarantine of AVA.”

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Al Jazeera-owned beIN Media Group publishes sports content piracy allegations against Saudi rival

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sports content piracy

The Qatar-based beIN Media Group has published “dossier of evidence” on a new website that it claims demonstrates how Saudi Arabia-based pirate TV channel beoutQ and Riyadh-headquartered satellite provider Arabsat are stealing its content and repackaging it as their own.

beIN, a subsidiary of the Al Jazeera Media Network that runs a global network of sports channels, claims the website outlines how the two organisations have stolen its sports and entertainment content on “an industrial scale” over the past 18 months, detailing all the commercial rights that have been infringed since beoutQ was launched in August 2017.

According to beIN, its rival has “brazenly” stolen its original coverage of top sporting events from around the globe and repackaged it as its own, even producing its own beoutQ-branded set-top boxes.

The website, which beIN said will be regularly updated with details of legal challenges it launches against its rival, outlines how beoutQ has illegally broadcast premium sports and entertainment content worth billions of dollars since it was launched, stealing other media groups’ content as well as its own.

It claims that while beoutQ began life as a website that was geo-blocked to Saudi Arabia, it has grown to become “the most sophisticated piracy operation that the world has ever seen”.

beIN alleges that its Saudi rival inserts its own logos and branding over its own and other media firms’ content, allowing it to sell subscriptions, carrying separate advertising, and add its own commentary.

The website claims that beoutQ illegally broadcasts live sports content every day, stolen from rights holders including Fifa, Uefa, the Premier League, LaLiga and other football leagues, as well as the NFL, the NBA, world tennis, Formula 1 and the Olympics.

Evidence published on the website links beoutQ with Saud al-Qahtani, an advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who has been implicated in the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Commenting on the allegations featured on the new website, Yousef Al-Obaidly, CEO if the beIN Media Group, said: “For the past 18 months beoutQ has brazenly stolen on a daily basis the commercial rights of almost every major sports rights holder and every movie studio around the world; and attempted to sabotage our broadcast business at the same time.

“We have a very simple message on behalf of the whole sports and entertainment industry: we will not cease our fight against this unprecedented piracy operation until it is eradicated.”

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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants accused of helping drugs gang smuggle heroin and crystal meth

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Australian police arrest Malaysian flight attendants

Two flight attendants working for Malaysian airline Malindo Air were among eight people arrested by police in Australia over the past two weeks during an investigation into an organised crime network suspected to be behind the importation of heroin and methamphetamine worth an estimated A$20 million ($14.35 million) into the country.

The two cabin crew members are suspected of having links to a Melbourne-based Vietnamese gang involved in the importation of high-purity heroin and methamphetamine into Australia from Malaysia.

In a series of raids on a number of properties in Melbourne that resulted in the arrest of the suspects, investigators from a coalition of Australian law enforcement agencies seized 6kgs of high-grade heroin with an estimated street value of A$14.5 million, and 8kgs of methamphetamine with a street value of $6.4 million.

Police also confiscated 0.5kgs of cocaine, assorted drug paraphernalia, a large quantity of cash, and a number of cars, including a Porsche Macan.

Six of the suspects were remanded into custody after appearing before Melbourne Magistrates Court, where they were charged with a multiple offences including importing a marketable quantity of border controlled drugs, and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Malindo Air, a subsidiary of Indonesia’s Lion Air, said it had suspended one of the cabin crew members with immediate effect pending termination.

In a statement, the company said: “Malindo Air stands ready to co-operate with all the relevant authorities be it in Australia or in Malaysia in this regard…

“As a responsible international air carrier, Malindo Air does not condone any act that is criminal in nature or misconduct by our personnel.”

Congratulating the officers who took part in the operation, Victoria Police Crime Command Assistant Commissioner Tess Walsh said its success sent a strong message that Australian law enforcement agencies remain focused on disrupting major drug trafficking conspiracies.

“This was a well organised syndicate we know had operated across Australia undetected for many years,” she said.

“To be in a position to make these arrests and dismantle this group is a significant win for both police and the Victorian community.

“The amount of heroin alone involved in this investigation amounts to almost fifty thousand hits in real terms.

“We know the harm that drugs bring – not just the physical and health impacts on users, but the negative flow on effects to the broader community such as property crime, assaults and drug driving.”

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