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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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European police agencies seize 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides in latest edition of Operation Silver Axe

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550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides

The latest instalment of a Europol-coordinated operation targeting agricultural fraudsters has resulted in the seizure of 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides across Europe and the arrest of three individuals.

Now in its fourth year, Operation Silver Axe, which is supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and involves law enforcement agencies in nearly 30 countries, saw investigators in search of fake pesticides carry out inspections at major seaports, airports and land borders.

Law enforcement officials in 29 participating nations also searched production and repackaging facilities looking for pesticide products that had not been tested to make sure they pose no risk to the environment or the health and safety of users, consumers and members of the public.

First launched in 2012, Operation Silver Axe is also intended to target the sale of counterfeit pesticides that infringe intellectual property rights such as trademarks, patents and copyright.

The bogus pesticides seized during this year’s operation would have been enough to spray 49,000km2 (30,447m2), an area the equivalent to the whole of Estonia.

Ahead of this year’s operation, OLAF provided participating nations with intelligence on 120 suspicious shipments of pesticides transported into member states.

Last year’s operation, which took place across 27 countries, saw investigators confiscate some 360 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides.

Since its inception seven years ago, Operation Silver Axe has resulted in 1,222 tonnes of illegal and fake counterfeit products being removed from circulation.

In a statement, Hans Mattaar, Technical Director of the European Crop Care Association (ECCA) said: “Every new Silver Axe operation shows how improving cooperation between law enforcement agencies leads to more efficiency in the fight against illegal pesticides.

“ECCA is pleased to see the result of Silver Axe IV, but at the same time concerned about the ongoing illegal business.

“We look forward to continuing our contribution to Europol in broadening the scope of Silver Axe.

“To increasing the pressure is the only way to discourage to discourage the criminal organisations behind this illegal trade.”

According to the European Crop Protection Association, the illicit global trade in counterfeit pesticides is growing at a swift rate, with increasing amounts of bogus agricultural products being sold to farmers across the globe by organised criminal networks.

The agency warns that fake pesticide products could be made from chemicals that are banned or restricted, and may lead to the total loss of treated crops, potentially compromising the livelihood of farmers.

It is estimated that counterfeit pesticides make up some 15% of the global $60 billion crop protection market.

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Criminal money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons, UK fraud prevention agency finds

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money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons

A new report from UK fraud prevention service Cifas has revealed that criminals ae increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons in a bid to persuade them to act as money mules.

In the latest edition of its annual Fraudscape study, Cifas said that it received more than 40,000 cases which “bore the hallmarks” of money mule activity in 2018, which was up 26% compared to the previous year.

While a rise in money mule activity was recorded across all age groups, the largest increase (35%) was seen among those aged between 41 and 60 last year.

Money mules agree to allow their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities, and are typically offered a cut of the money they move as a commission, or high-value items such as expensive trainers in return.

Recruiters typically target potential mules online via social media platforms, historically seeking out young male victims who might be in financial difficulty, such as the unemployed or students.

While Cifas’ latest report shows that young people under the age of 30 are still by far the primary target of money mule recruiters, last year saw a marked rise in the number of older people becoming involved in the crime, albeit from a very low starting point.

More widely, the report reveals that Cifas members recorded almost 324,000 cases of fraud last year, which was up 6% on 2017.

Commenting on the contents of the study, Cifas CEO Mike Haley said: “Fraud in the UK continues to rise and fraudsters are constantly finding new methods of committing fraud.

“From identity theft through to using the young and naïve as money mules to launder money, the economic and social harm to the nation is growing.

“The only way to fight the threat is to combine communication and collaboration, working together to present a united front against the perpetrators.”

Acting as a money mule might seem like an easy way to make some quick cash, but those caught allowing their accounts to be used for the laundering of the proceeds of criminal activities can face stiff penalties, and will rarely be able to plead ignorance if they are caught.

Back in April of this year, police in Ireland warned students thinking of acting as money mules that they could face as many as 14 years behind bars if they allowed their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder money.

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Wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA

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wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine

Consumption of heroin and MDMA has risen to the highest levels ever recorded in Australia by an annual study that measures the presence of illicit substances in the country’s wastewater.

The seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report, released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), also showed that Australians now use twice as much methamphetamine as any other illicit drug.

According to the study, Australia ranks second for methamphetamine and MDMA use among 25 countries that produce comparable stimulant data, but has relatively low comparative cocaine consumption.

The study revealed that while the consumption of nicotine and alcohol fell across the country in the 12 months to December last year, use of methamphetamine continued to outstrip the consumption of all other illicit drug types and pharmaceuticals.

The report estimates that Australia’s annual consumption of methamphetamine has reached nearly 10 tonnes, which compares to just over four tonnes of cocaine, and 750kgs of heroin.

Australian drug users are thought to favour synthetic narcotics on account of the cost and expense of shipping substances such as heroin and cocaine into the country from the regions in which they are grown.

The study also found that while use of synthetic opioid fentanyl plateaued in the final six months of 2018, oxycodone consumption rose over the same period.

On a regional basis, South and Western Australia were found to have the highest average use of methamphetamine, while Victoria had the highest rate of heroin consumption, and New South Wales the top level of cocaine use.

Unveiling the latest edition of the report, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer Michael Phelan said: “The Australian community continues to consume illicit drugs at concerning levels and the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is providing an important, unified and consistent guiding tool for developing holistic drug responses.

“We are only now starting to realise the full benefits of the ongoing programme.”

The study found that average heroin consumption decreased in both capital city and regional areas, while average cannabis consumption increased in both city and regional sites.

The ACIC noted that the report covered 54% of the Australian population, which equates to about 12.6 million people, and that 50 wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the December 2018 collection, monitoring the consumption of 13 substances.

Earlier this month, the Australian Border Force (ABF) announced that it had seized 1.6 tonnes of methamphetamine, which was said to have been the largest shipment of the drug ever discovered in the country.

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