A Chinese woman dubbed the “Ivory Queen” has been jailed for 15 years in Tanzania after being convicted of smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks.
Yang Fenglan was found guilty of running one of the largest ivory smuggling operations ever discovered in Africa, and is said to have been responsible for the trafficking of tusks from as many as 400 elephants worth an estimated $2.5 million.
A court heard how the 69-year-old businesswoman had managed to pose as an upstanding member of the Chinese expatriate community in Tanzania for decades, while all the while overseeing a major smuggling operation that involved huge quantities of illicit ivory being trafficked between Africa and China.
Yang was yesterday found guilty of being behind the smuggling of 860 tusks between 2000 and 2014.
She is said to have used her connections with wealthy and powerful individuals she met while working as Secretary General of Tanzania’s China-Africa business council to facilitate the trafficking operation.
Sentencing Yang to 15 years behind bars for heading up an organised crime gang, a magistrate also ordered her to hand over a fine equal to twice the market value of the ivory she was convicted of smuggling or face another two years in prison.
According to court documents, Yang, who is reported to have worked as a Swahili translator and run a successful Chinese restaurant since arriving in Tanzania in the 1970s, organised the smuggling of ivory weighing a total of 1,889 tonnes.
Authorities believe she may have been active in the illicit ivory trade from as far back as the 1980s.
Speaking after Yang was jailed, campaigners said the prison time she was handed was not sufficiently long enough.
In comments made to the Reuters news agency, WWF Country Director Amani Ngusaru said: “[It] is not punishment enough for the atrocities she committed, by being responsible for the poaching of thousands of elephants in Tanzania.
“She ran a network that killed thousands of elephants.”
The poaching of ivory in Africa, which is estimated to have caused a 20% decline in the population of elephants across the continent over the course of the past 10 years, is driven by demand in Asia, where elephant tusk is used to make ornaments and jewellery.
Ivory is also used widely in Chinese medicine, and is thought by many in Asia to contain properties that can remove toxins from the body and contribute towards a glowing complexion.
Scotland is drug death capital of Europe, new study reveals
Scotland has the highest number of drug-related deaths in Europe, and fatalities linked to the consumption of substances such as heron in the country are on the rise, according to a new report from a government agency.
A statistical update from Audit Scotland on the nation’s drug and alcohol services has revealed that drug-related deaths rose to 934 in 2017, a 71% increase on the 525 people who lost their lives as a consequence of drug consumption in 2009.
Seventy-six percent of those deaths occurred in the 35 years and over age group, suggesting that drug problems are increasingly affecting older people in Scotland.
The most significant increase in drug-related deaths in this age category was recorded in people aged 45 and over, who accounted for 37% of fatalities in 2017, up from 20% of the total in 2009.
According to the update, opioids are the most problematic group of drugs, and are implicated in the majority of drug-related deaths in the country.
The study also found that while use of new psychoactive substances such as the synthetic cannabinoid Spice has declined in the general population since the introduction of the UK government’s Psychoactive Substances Act in 2016, these types of drugs are still causing significant harm among vulnerable groups such as prisoners.
Commenting on the findings outlined in the update, Auditor General for Scotland Caroline Gardner said: “The last decade has seen several notable achievements in drug and alcohol treatment in Scotland, including more recovery communities, improved drug harm reduction strategies and minimum unit pricing for alcohol.
“But without clear performance data around what measures are working, the government will continue to find it hard to achieve its aim of reducing deaths and better supporting people to recover.”
Earlier this week, the Press Association reported that former addicts had told UK Parliament’s Commons Scottish Affairs Committee that providing users of drugs such as heroin with replacement treatments such as methadone is leaving them wandering around “like zombies”.
Former heroin addict Sharon Brand, who now runs the Recovery Dundee charity, told the committee: “There’s people who have been on methadone since they were 15, 30 years now, there’s two generations in each family who are either on methadone or a chaotic user.
“I’ve not got a great opinion of methadone. I think done right, for a very short period, it could work but I think there are a lot more and better ways to help somebody get past that stage.”
European police forces dismantle major organised crime network that made €680 million in two years
A Europol-coordinated operation involving law enforcement agencies from the UK, Spain, Lithuania, Poland and Estonia has resulted in the break-up of a sophisticated organised criminal network that is thought to have raked in hundreds of millions of euros over a two-year period.
The gang, which is said to have been made of Lithuanian nationals and members from other EU countries, made huge profits from activities including drug smuggling, cigarette trafficking, assassinations and money laundering.
Police taking part in the operation, which was codenamed Icebreaker, and is reported to have been the largest of its kind to take place in Europe to date, carried out raids on 40 properties in Poland, Lithuania and Spain, during which €8 million ($8.94 million) in cash was seized, along with high-value items including diamonds, gold bars, jewellery and luxury vehicles.
During the raids, which were conducted on Wednesday and Thursday last week, a total of 22 suspects were arrested in the UK, Poland, Lithuania and Spain, where a 48-year-old Lithuanian man was detained on suspicion of leading the network.
Investigators estimate that the gang made a profit of some €680 million as a result of its illicit activities between 2017 and 2019 alone, during which time its members are suspected to have trafficked large quantities of drugs and illicit tobacco into Britain.
The proceeds of the network’s criminal activity was laundered through currency exchange offices before being invested in properties in Spain and other countries.
According to Europol, senior members of the gang used counter-surveillance and counter-intelligence techniques, as well as specialised encrypted communication devices, in a bid to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities.
In total, more than 450 police and customs officers took part in Operation Icebreaker, with agencies contributing to the effort including Lithuania’s Criminal Police Bureau, the UK’s HM Revenue and Customs, the Polish Police Central Bureau of Investigation, and Spain’s Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional.
In a statement, Europol said: “The creation of an Operational Task Force between all five countries and Europol in November 2018 had a catalytic effect on the scale and the intensity of the investigation, facilitating the development of a joint strategy to target the whole network. It led to carrying out one of the largest covert police operations recently against an organized crime group.
“Due to the demanding investigative measures run on an international level, Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) were set up between the cooperating countries with the assistance of Eurojust.”
Australian terrorist financing investigation results in disruption of major cigarette smuggling conspiracy
An investigation into terrorist financing conducted by law enforcement agencies in Australia has led to the arrest of eight men on suspicion of involvement in an illicit cigarette importation conspiracy run from Sydney.
The counter-terrorism operation that resulted in the men’s detention, which involved officers from the New South Wales (NSW) Police Force’s Terrorism Investigation Squad, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Australian Border Force (ABF)-led Illicit Tobacco Taskforce, resulted in the identification of an organised criminal gang involved in the importation of illicit tobacco, drug trafficking and money laundering.
In a statement, NSW Police said three suspects were detained on Tuesday at Sydney Olympic Park, where one man was found by officers to be carrying A$12,000 ($8,245) in cash.
After those arrests, investigators carried out a series of raids on domestic properties, business premises and storage units across Sydney’s south-west, resulting in the seizure of illicit tobacco, A$50,000 in cash and a range of luxury items, including designer watches, jewellery and handbags.
During the raids, a further six suspects were detained, and were later charged with a number of offences including membership of a criminal organisation, tobacco smuggling, money laundering and the criminal possession of more than 500kgs of tobacco.
Police believe members of the gang were responsible for the importation and sale of more than seven tonnes of illicit tobacco products, estimated to be worth in excess of A$1.8 million.
Commenting on the success of the operation, ABF Acting Regional Commander for NSW Garry Low said: “We know illicit tobacco is an attractive market for criminal syndicates due to the lucrative profits that can be made in evaded tax, and as we can see here, the profits are often channelled back into organised crime.
“Illicit tobacco costs Australia about A$600 million a year in lost revenue. The ABF, working with our law enforcement partners, will continue to do everything we can to crack down on this black market, the criminals involved in it, and prevent illicit profits being channelled back into other criminal activities.”
In May of last year, lawmakers in Australia launched a crackdown on the sale of illicit tobacco that they claimed would raise some A$3.6 billion over a four-year period.
The Australian government said the initiative was intended to prevent the sale of 864 tonnes of illicit tobacco that is estimated to slip past the country’s customs officers every year.
- Scotland is drug death capital of Europe, new study reveals
- European police forces dismantle major organised crime network that made €680 million in two years
- Australian terrorist financing investigation results in disruption of major cigarette smuggling conspiracy
- Kenya becomes first nation in Africa to join Interpol’s International Child Sexual Exploitation database
- International pickpocketing gangs must be treated as serious and organised criminal networks
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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