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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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British men jailed over £5 million Premier League football match streaming scam

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Premier League football match livestreaming operation

Three men have been jailed for a combined total of 17 years by a UK court after being convicted of running a pirate streaming service that offered illegal access to live Premier League football matches to more than 1,000 pubs, clubs and private homes in England and Wales over a 10-year period.

Steven King, Paul Rolston and Daniel Malone, who ran companies trading under the names of Dreambox, Dreambox TV Limited, and Digital Switchover Limited, are said to have raked in over £5 million ($6.53 million) over the decade during which their scam lasted.

Head of the operation King was handed a seven-year-and-four-month sentence, while Rolston was jailed for six years and four months, and Malone for three years and three months.

Warwick Crown Court heard during a four-week trial how the men exploited a range of technologies to facilitate their illicit streaming service, conspiring with a number of third parties both in Britain and throughout Europe to create and illegally broadcast livestreams of games.

Finding all three men guilty of conspiracy to defraud, a judge described the operation as a “dishonest, dodgy business”, noting that the defendants’ efforts to frustrate broadcasters’ attempts to investigate the scam had been an aggravating factor that was reflected in the length of their sentences.

The judge was also critical of the “profoundly dishonest” businesses that profited from using the men’s streaming services without paying broadcasters.

Commenting on the men’s sentences in a statement, Premier League Director of Legal Services Kevin Plumb said: “Today’s decision has provided further evidence that the law will catch up with companies and individuals that defraud rights owners and breach copyright.

“The custodial sentences issued here reflect the seriousness and the scale of the crimes.

“Using these services is unlawful and fans should be aware that when they do so they enter into agreements with illegal businesses.

“They also risk being victims of fraud or identity theft by handing over personal data and financial details.”

Kieron Sharp, Director General of the Federation Against Copyright Theft (Fact), said the length of the men’s sentences demonstrated that the illegal streaming of Premier League football matches is a serious crime, adding: “For those people using services such as this, do not think that this is a grey area – it is not, it is breaking the law.”

It is estimated that the typical British pub that shows Premier League matches legally pays £20,000 a year to broadcasters such as Sky and BT.

 

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Dance music festivals fuelling rise in ecstasy use among young people in South America, UNODC claims

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ecstasy use among young people in South America

Ecstasy and new psychoactive substances (NPS) that mimic the effects of MDMA are becoming increasingly popular among young people in South America, according to a report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

In the latest edition of its Global SMART Newsletter for Latin America and the Caribbean, the agency said secondary school pupils and university students are taking the drugs in greater quantities at electronic music festivals.

The report also revealed that some Caribbean countries have experienced an uptick in the use of ecstasy-like substances largely on account of the fact that tourists are bringing the drugs with them while on holiday.

Noting that while seizures of these types of drugs are generally much lower in Latin America and the Caribbean than in North America and Europe, UNODC observes that some countries in the region have seen large amounts of ecstasy-like substances discovered by law enforcement authorities in recent years.

“The market of ecstasy in the region has evolved significantly and has become more complex over time,” the report says.

“Currently, ecstasy is available in two main forms; as tablets containing varying doses of MDMA, ranging from no MDMA at all to high doses, and as powder or in crystalline form.

“Both forms of presentation often contain substances other than MDMA, including NPS with stimulant effects.”

Looking at the emergence of NPS in Latin America and the Caribbean, UNODC said 14 countries in the region have reported the presence of 178 different synthetic drugs belonging to a diverse range of chemical groups over the course of the past decade.

In 2017, more than 60 different NPS were reported to UNODC by nine countries in the region, highlighting the emergence of a trend that the agency said presents a serious threat to public health and challenges for policy makers and law enforcement authorities there.

At the end of last week, UNODC announced that it had donated an on-site drug testing device to law enforcement agencies in Jamaica to help counter the threat of NPS in Latin America and the Caribbean.

After being presented with the device, Cheryl Spencer, UN Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Jamaica, said: “Jamaica regards this support to the country through this device as not only a tangible demonstration of international cooperation but also as technology transfer, elements which are critical to the development of small developing countries like Jamaica.”

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Women and young girls from Myanmar trafficked as ‘sex slaves’ to families in China, HRW report warns

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trafficked as ‘sex slaves’

A new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) has revealed that young women from Myanmar are being trafficked to China before being locked up and raped until they become pregnant.

Trafficking victims who escaped their captors told the NGO that they were promised well-paid jobs in China by people they trusted such as close relatives, but were instead sold to Chinese families as sex slaves for as much as $13,000.

HRW has accused authorities in both countries of turning a blind eye to the trafficking of women and girls from Kachin and northern Shan States in Myanmar to China, noting that poor human rights protections have made victims easy prey for the organised criminal gangs behind the illicit trade.

Traffickers are said to be able to act with near impunity with little fear of being troubled by law enforcement agencies from either China or Myanmar.

The NGO said families of victims claim they were repeatedly turned away when they reported concerns about the trafficking of their relatives to police, or were asked by law enforcement officers to hand over money before any action would be taken.

Based on the testimony of dozens of trafficking survivors, Myanmar government officials and law enforcement officers, HRW’s report reveals that the families to which victims were sold often appeared to be more interested in having a baby than using the women for sex, and would sometimes allow their “salves” to escape once they had given birth, on the condition that they left their child behind.

One victim told HRW that traffickers told her they would cut off her hands and legs should she attempt to escape, while another described being raped by a man every night, and how she would be threatened with a knife in the event that she refused to have sex.

Heather Barr, HRW Acting Women’s Rights Co-Director and author of the report, said: “The Myanmar and Chinese governments, as well as the Kachin Independence Organisation, should be doing much more to prevent trafficking, recover and assist victims, and prosecute traffickers.

“Donors and international organisations should support the local groups that are doing the hard work that governments won’t to rescue trafficked women and girls and help them recover.”

It is estimated that China has as many as 40 million “missing women” as a result of a preference for boys during the country’s “one-child policy”, which was in place between 1979 and 2015.

The relative dearth of women in China has resulted in some families turning to trafficking from countries such as Myanmar when they want to have children.

 

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