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Police in Belgium and Portugal dismantle organised crime gang behind sham marriage conspiracy

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sham marriage conspiracy

Law enforcement agencies in Belgium and Portugal have broken up an organised criminal gang that paid mostly Portuguese women to enter into sham marriages with Pakistani men.

In an operation supported by Europol and Eurojust, investigators today arrested 17 suspects in Belgium and a further three in Portugal in a series of coordinated raids.

The gang is said to have paid the women thousands of euros to marry the men, who were looking to illegally secure the right to live and work in the EU.

After being married in Portugal, the couples would travel to Belgium, where the wives would be employed by suspected bogus Belgian firms.

The gang would then arrange for the husbands to buy shares in the companies their sham wives worked for, allowing them the right to remain in the EU and apply for residency.

After doing so, the Pakistani men were then able to apply for social security benefits.

Once each sham marriage had been established, the women would typically return to Portugal after being paid, returning to Belgium occasionally as and when required to complete any necessary immigration or police checks.

Belgian authorities were first alerted to the scam back in 2015 when local officials became aware of an unusual rise in the number of mixed marriage certificates being issued in Ypres, a city in the Flemish province of West Flanders.

A Joint Investigation Team (JIT) was established due to the international nature of the conspiracy, which culminated in today’s raids in Ypres and Brussels in Belgium, as well as in Lisbon and Algarve in Portugal.

Officers from each country took part in the day of action in both Portugal and Belgium.

Raids on 18 properties in Belgium resulted in the discovery of 43 irregular migrants, who were mostly of Pakistani origin, as well as the seizure of counterfeit documents and mobile devices.

Meanwhile in Portugal, police detained three suspects during searches of nine properties, during which laptops, desktops and other mobile devices were confiscated.

In a statement, Europe’s law enforcement agency said: “Europol supported the joint operation on-the-spot.

“Analysts were deployed to Belgium and Portugal for real-time information cross-checks and mobile phone forensics.

“This coordinated international cooperation proved very useful in the dismantling of this criminal network.”

In August last year, a similar Europol-backed operation resulted in the arrest in Romania and Poland of five members of a gang suspected of smuggling Indian and Nepali nationals into the EU through sham marriages.

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Malaysian investigators uncover record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins at two illicit plants

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record haul of nearly 30 tonnes of pangolins

Police in Malaysia have seized over 27 tonnes of pangolins and their body parts from traffickers running two illicit plants dedicated to the processing of the critically-endangered animal, according to wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

Acting after receiving intelligence, investigators first raided one facility in the Sabah state capital of Kota Kinabalu on 7 February, before later swooping on a warehouse in Tamparuli, nearly 22 miles away from the city.

The massive haul, which is thought to be the largest ever recovered in the country, is estimated to have been worth some 8.4 million ringgit ($2 million) on the black market.

In an operation that exposed the role Sabah plays in the global illegal trade in pangolin parts, police involved in the raids recovered 1,800 boxes containing frozen pangolins, 572 individual frozen pangolins in six freezers, 61 live pangolins in cages and in the boot of a car, and 361kgs of pangolin scales.

Police also recovered two bear paws and the carcasses of four flying foxes.

A 35-year-old man, thought to be a manager of one of the sites, was arrested following the raids, Traffic said, citing police sources.

The anti-trafficking organisation said it hoped the raids would help lead investigators to the organised criminal syndicates behind both the domestic and international illicit trade in pangolin parts.

Pangolins, which are thought to be the most trafficked mammal on the planet, are estimated to make up around a fifth of the world’s illicit trade in wildlife.

The animals’ scales are in high demand in many Asian countries, where they are used in a range of traditional medicine, while their meat is considered a delicacy in China and other Asian nations.

Many people across Asia mistakenly believe that pangolin body parts contain properties that can cure a number of ailments ranging from hangovers to cancer, despite there being no evidence whatsoever that this is the case.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Traffic’s Southeast Asia Director Kanitha Krishnasamy said: “Detecting large volumes of pangolin smuggling is no easy feat and Sabah authorities are congratulated for pursuing and taking down this smuggling operation

“It is hoped that comprehensive investigations can lead to unmasking the syndicate and networks operating from the state and beyond.”

The raids come ahead of this Saturday’s World Pangolin Day, which is intended to raise awareness of how heavily the animal is trafficked.

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Industry body unveils new effort to protect European advertisers from online pirated content

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protect European advertisers from online pirated content

An anti-piracy group has announced a new initiative that is intended to help European brands protect themselves from being associated with pirated content.

Advertising industry organisation the Trustworthy Accountability Group (Tag) yesterday announced Project Brand Integrity, which is intended to alert companies and their advertising agencies when their marketing material has appeared alongside pirated material online.

The new initiative, which is modelled on a similar effort launched in the US that is said to have reduced the number of impressions linked to pirated content by more than 90% over two years, will be operated by Tag in partnership with advertising auditing firm White Bullet, which will monitor and document ads on infringing sites.

After scanning ad-supported infringing sites serving markets in Europe, White Bullet’s technology will identify any ads that appear alongside pirated content, before forwarding that information to Tag, which will contact the advertiser and/or its agency so they can take remedial action.

Mike Zaneis, CEO of Tag, commented: “If you are a brand advertiser, the skull-and-crossbones isn’t just a pirate movie trope. It accurately reflects the toxic danger of associating your brand with stolen content and criminal activities on pirate sites.

“Project Brand Integrity will serve as an early warning system for advertisers and their agencies, so we can alert them when their ads have run near stolen content and help them implement effective safeguards to prevent it from happening again.

“We are delighted to work with White Bullet to jointly enable this program, while advancing the European Commission’s important work in this area.”

The new project forms part of wider drive by major advertisers and their partners to ensure online marketing material does not appear alongside content that could damage brand reputation.

Over recent years, major brands including Unilever, Mars and Verizon have pulled their ads from major video streaming platforms such as YouTube over worries that they were appearing alongside child sexual abuse material, violent drill rap videos and content relating to religious extremism.

Puling its material from various platforms over fears its ads were being shown alongside inappropriate content featuring children in November 2017, Mars said: “We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally.

“Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google.”

YouTube and Google have since boosted their efforts to take down or demonetise inappropriate or questionable content through fear of alienating advertisers.

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Romanian sex trafficking brothers who modified penises with metal balls to cause more pain to rape victims jailed for 108 years

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Romanian sex trafficking brothers

Two Romanian brothers who trafficked vulnerable young women into Spain and forced them into prostitution have been jailed for a total of 108 years after a court heard they inserted metal balls into their penises in a bid to cause maximum pain to their rape victims.

Cristian and Sebastián Sandulache, who were said to have made as much as €11,000 ($12,448) a night by forcing their victims to sell sex, were sentenced to 55 and 53 years respectively by a Spanish court last month.

Despite the huge amount of money the brothers and their fellow gang members were able to rake in, their victims were paid only around €200 a fortnight after being told they must work off the debt they had built up travelling to Spain.

As well as modifying their penises to cause the women they trafficked as much pain as possible, prosecutors told the court the sadistic siblings sliced one woman’s arm off with a samurai sword, and forced others to eat euro banknotes when they failed to bring in enough money while prostituting themselves.

After forcing the women to wash down the notes with water, the brothers are said to have told them they would be made to eat coins should they fail to make sufficient money in the future.

The pair made victims sell their bodies at a brothel in the northwest town of Oviedo after luring them from their home country of Romania with false promises of well-paid legitimate work.

Once the women arrived in Spain, the brothers stripped them of their travel documents and mobile phones, before beating and raping them and forcing them to work as prostitutes.

While serving a previous prison sentence, the brothers sliced holes in their own penises and inserted metal balls into the holes as part of a bid to make sex more pleasurable for themselves and more painful for their partners, the court was told.

As well as being handed lengthy jail terms, the brothers were also ordered to pay their victims large amounts of compensation.

The pair’s lawyers said they both intend to appeal the length of their sentences, having initially denied all of the charges against them, maintaining that the women who accused them of wrongdoing were lying, and were only interested in extracting compensation from them.

If they had been convicted of all the charges they faced, the brothers could have been handed a total of 600 years behind bars.

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