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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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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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