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Wider range of crime gangs involved in European cocaine trade as production rises in Latin America

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European cocaine trade

A new trendspotter report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has revealed that the EU cocaine trade is shifting, with smuggling gangs from the Balkans, Morocco and other regions joining the Italian mafia to ship the drug directly from suppliers in Latin America to consumers.

The EMCDDA noted what it referred to as the “Uberisation” of the cocaine trade across Europe, with trafficking gangs offering quick deliveries at any time of the day or night in major cities.

The report said dealers selling drugs in Belgium have set up call centre-style operations located in western Balkan countries and Spain from which to coordinate the distribution of cocaine in the western European country.

British county lines gangs are also mentioned in the study. These operations involve established drugs gangs from urban areas sending vulnerable young people to smaller market towns and rural parts of the country to sell substances such as crack cocaine and heroin using encrypted mobile apps such as WhatsApp.

Increasing use of social media platforms and encrypted communication apps by cocaine dealers has also been recorded in other countries across Europe, including Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Spain and Sweden, the report found.

More widely, the study revealed that a greater number of criminal gangs are now operating in the European cocaine market compared to 2014, with new trafficking and concealment methods also emerging, and entry points into Europe multiplying.

This has helped maintain a steady flow of the drug into Europe as customs investigators have struggled to keep up with traffickers’ innovation, which has helped keep the price of cocaine low.

Rising production of the drug across Latin America is thought to have made it much easier for a greater number of organised criminal gangs to get hold of high-purity cocaine, with many now establishing direct relationships with producers that allow them to import large quantities of the drug from source.

“The fragmentation of the cocaine trade in Europe appears to have resulted in increased competition among organised crime groups for national and cross-border territories in cocaine supply and retail,” the report read.

“One of the consequences has been an increase in violence and drug-related homicides in a number of European countries, such as, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Recent media reports have highlighted an escalation in the number of homicides and kidnappings among criminal groups linked to the cocaine trade in these countries.”

The study also revealed that there is some evidence to suggest that the final stage of the cocaine production process – involving the conversion of base to hydrochloride – may be being carried out in Europe.

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A quarter of all CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in US are counterfeit, RIAA warns

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CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in the US are counterfeit

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has claimed that 25% of all CDs “fulfilled by Amazon” in the US are counterfeit.

A recent sample purchase programme conducted by the RIAA, which represents major labels that are responsible for the creation, manufacture, distribution or sale of 85% of all legitimately recorded music produced in the US, also found that 100% of new “high-quality box sets offered for sale through eBay or AliExpress in the US were counterfeit”.

The exercise revealed that 11% of new CDs offered for sale on Amazon were fake, and 16% of new CDs sold on eBay were bogus.

Publishing the findings of its sample purchase programme, the RIAA said it had also observed the sale of fake “best of” or “greatest hits” CDs or vinyl that purport to be from major record label artists on these platforms, even when the labels in question had never released such albums.

The association said it continues to see a high number of incidents in which its members branding has been used without permission on multiple ecommerce platforms, including Amazon, eBay, Redbubble and Bonanza.

“These infringements not only undermine revenues from legitimate sources to music creators and owners, they also harm the reputation and goodwill associated with the artists, brands or logos at issue,” the RIAA said.

“This harm is exacerbated by limited and inconsistent enforcement by online third-party marketplaces and other intermediaries to address counterfeit listings and sellers of counterfeit products.”

Responding to the RIAA’s findings in a statement given to Digital Music News, Amazon said: “Our customers expect that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store—either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers—they will receive authentic products.

“Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and we invest heavily in both funds and company energy to ensure our policy is followed.”

Last month, research conducted by anti-piracy and counterfeit protection firm Red Points revealed that the number of items buyers believe to be fake sold on Amazon rises by a third during the company’s annual Prime Day event.

Earlier in July, Amazon announced the expansion of its flagship anti-counterfeiting Transparency programme to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, India and Canada.

First launched in the US back in March 2017, the initiative allows companies to apply unique T-shaped QR-style codes to their products, which can be used by customers, brands, Amazon and other participants in the supply chain to authenticate items being offered for sale.

 

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Canadian police target young drivers recruited by gangs to deliver drugs

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young drivers recruited by gangs to deliver drugs

Police in the Canadian province of British Columbia have arrested three teenagers in a crackdown on street-level gang activity and drug dealing.

Officers from the Abbotsford Police Gang Crime Unit (GCU) and the Abbotsford Police Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) last week detained two 18-year-olds and one 19-year-old on suspicion of drug offences after police searches resulted in the discovery pre-packaged deals of synthetic opioid fentanyl and crack cocaine along with CA$1,500 ($1,122) in cash and a number of mobile phones.

Detectives taking part in the operation also impounded a 2016 Jeep Wrangler that is said to have been used by the suspects to deliver the drugs they are alleged to have been selling.

Police said the arrests were carried out with the assistance of a patrol division, an emergency response team and sniffer dogs.

The operation was launched after police in the region discovered that local gang members were increasingly attempting to recruit young people who had recently learned to drive.

Sergeant Maitland Smith, of Abbotsford Police’s GCU, said in a statement: “We are currently seeing a trend in Abbotsford evolving around the recruitment of youth into gangs, and more specifically ‘new’ drivers.

“More established street-level drug dealers are aware that the police are seizing vehicles and assets upon being arrested; so they are recruiting younger drivers to chauffeur them as they conduct their drug trafficking business.

“In most cases, these young, new drivers are using vehicles registered to their parents to drive the dealers around with the promise that they will get a share of the profit at the end of the day.”

Smith went on to explain that acting as a driver for drug dealers is a serious offence that could result in arrest and prosecution, regardless of whether young car owners have handled illicit substances or not.

He also warned that any vehicle that police believe has been used to facilitate the sale of illegal drugs could be seized, even if the car is officially registered to a young person’s parents.

Abbotsford Police warned young people they could be putting themselves, their friends and their relatives at risk if they become involved in drug dealing or other forms of organised crime, noting that dozens of young adults have been shot dead across the region over recent years.

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LAX border officials seize fake luxury goods worth $3.5 million smuggled into US from Hong Kong

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LAX border officials seize fake luxury goods

Customs officers working at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have confiscated thousands of luxury items that would have had an estimated retail value of nearly $3.5 million had they been genuine.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) investigators working at the airport found the haul among air cargo that had been brought into the country from Hong Kong, which is a major source of counterfeit and pirated products globally.

The massive shipment of fake items included nearly 1,250 counterfeit Gucci belts, 678 pairs of counterfeit Nike shoes, more than 530 counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags, 500 counterfeit Samsung adaptors, over 500 counterfeit Gucci waist pack belts, 230 counterfeit Hermes handbags, 192 counterfeit Casio Shock watches, 144 counterfeit Ferragamo belts, 100 counterfeit Versace belts, and 119 counterfeit Fendi shorts.

Carlos Martel, CBP Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles, commented: “CBP protects businesses and consumers every day through an aggressive intellectual property rights enforcement programme.

“These seizures demonstrate the high level of skill and vigilance of our officers and import specialists.”

In a statement, CBP said the sheer size of the illicit shipment indicated the huge amount of profit that can be made by importing counterfeit goods into the US, and went on to warn consumers that fake items such as these are often sold through illegitimate websites and underground retail outlets.

Donald Kusser, CBP Port Director at LAX, said: “The American public should be aware that buying a counterfeit product is a lose-lose proposition, because the money they paid often funds criminal enterprises.

“In addition, buyers get a substandard low-quality product, containing unknown chemicals and likely produced under inhumane conditions.”

In a report published back in March, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office revealed that pirated and counterfeit goods had grown to account for 3.3% of all global trade, noting that the majority of the fake goods seized across the globe throughout 2016 were said to have originated from Hong Kong and mainland China.

Hong Kong has also come under fire for the role it plays in the global illicit trade in smuggled wildlife products, with a coalition of local NGOs warning in January that the region plays a wildly disproportionate role in wildlife crime thanks largely to its close proximity to mainland China.

Amanda Witfort, a professor at Hong Kong University’s Faculty of Law and one of the study’s authors, said at the time: “Wildlife crime in Hong Kong remains under-policed and under-investigated. Wildlife smuggling is not regarded as organised and serious crime, under Hong Kong law.”

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