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European crackdown on smuggled medicines results in arrest of 435 suspects

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smuggled medicines

A Europol-backed crackdown on trafficked pharmaceuticals involving law enforcement agencies from 16 countries has resulted in the seizure of millions of doses of smuggled medicines estimated to be worth in excess of €165 million ($185.4 million).

Investigators participating in the MISMED 2 operation also arrested 435 people who are suspected of being involved in the illicit trafficking of misused medicines across Europe.

In total, the French and Finnish-led effort saw investigators confiscate 13 million units and 1.8 tonnes of smuggled medicines.

During the course of the operation, which took place between April and October last year but was kept secret until this week for operational purposes, 24 organised criminal networks involved in the smuggling of illicit pharmaceuticals were disrupted.

Officials also seized criminal assets worth €3.2 million.

The number of nations participating in the operation has risen since it was first launched in 2017, which Europol said was a reflection of the increasing determination by EU member states to tackle the issue of smuggled pharmaceuticals.

As well as the nine countries that took part in the first MISMED operation (Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Spain and the UK), an additional seven nations participated in the second effort (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Lithuania, Portugal, Serbia and Ukraine).

In a statement, Europol said the operation revealed that as well as opioids, the European trade in illicit pharmaceuticals also involves the smuggling of products used for the treatment of major illnesses such as cancer and heart conditions, as well as performance and image enhancing drugs.

The effort also revealed that the circulation of counterfeit medicines is on the rise, with fake pharmaceuticals accounting for more than half of the 13 million doses that were seized during the operation.

“The misuse of medicines is a serious and growing problem that needs to be tackled at the European level,” Europol said.

“Organised crime groups are increasingly turning to this crime area as it provides very high profits for perpetrators and relatively low risks regarding detection and criminal penalties.”

In December 2017, Europol announced that the first MISMED operation saw investigators seize 75 million units of medicine and doping substances, which had a combined estimated street value of over €230 million.

Last month, a new Europe-wide initiative was launched to protect patients and public health agencies from counterfeit medicines.

The Falsified Medicines Directive aims to bolster the integrity of the pharmaceutical supply chain across member states.

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Counterfeit goods rise to account for 3.3% of all global trade, OECD report reveals

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counterfeit goods rise to account for 3.3% of all global trade

Pirated and counterfeit goods now account for 3.3% of all global trade, according to a new study published yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office.

Based on worldwide customs seizure data, the report estimates the global value of counterfeit and pirated goods was $509 billion in 2016, the latest year for which records were available.

This was up from $461 billion in 2013, which amounted to 2.5% of all world trade that year.

The notable increase was recorded over a period during which global trading levels decreased, suggesting that the worldwide trade in illicit trade pirated and counterfeit goods is expanding rapidly.

According to the study, the problem is particularly acute in the European Union, where counterfeit and pirated goods were found to account for 7% of the 28-nation bloc’s trade in 2016.

Over the course of 2016, the data shows that the most frequently seized pirated and counterfeit products across the globe in dollar value were bogus footwear, clothing, leather goods and IT equipment, flowed by watches, medical products and fragrances.

Most of the fake goods seized across the globe throughout 2016 are said to have originated from mainland China and Hong Kong, with countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Singapore, Thailand and India remaining major sources of counterfeit products.

US firms were most affected by the trade in pirated and counterfeit items in 2016, with American products accounting for 24% of global seizures.

The US was followed by France (17%), Italy (15%), Switzerland (11%) and Germany (9%).

The report also revealed that an increasing number of companies in emerging economies such as Brazil and China are becoming targets of counterfeiters.

Authors of the report said the rise in circulation of counterfeit and pirated goods comes at a time when digital trading platforms are making it increasingly easy for the criminal networks that produce fake goods to sell to a global customer base.

The sending of small parcels through the mail system remained the most popular way for pirated and counterfeit goods to be distributed in 2016, accounting for 69% of all seized fake goods.

Launching the report yesterday, OECD Public Governance Director Marcos Bonturi said: “Counterfeit trade takes away revenues from firms and governments and feed other criminal activities. It can also jeopardise consumers’ health and safety.

“Counterfeiters thrive where there is poor governance. It is vital that we do more to protect intellectual property and address corruption.”

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EU prepares for WannaCry-style hacking attempts ahead of European Parliament elections in May

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EU prepares for WannaCry-style hacking attempts

Europol has announced that law enforcement agencies across EU member states are preparing to counter cross-border hacking attempts ahead of the European Parliament elections at the end of May.

Bracing for cyber attacks on democratic institutions, think tanks and non-profit organisations ahead of the vote, the European Council has formally adopted an EU Law Enforcement Emergency Response Protocol, which Europol said would serve as a tool to support law enforcement authorities across the union by providing an immediate response to major cross-border hacking attempts.

The protocol, which gives Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) a central role in responding to these types of threats, is intended to offer member states with a rapid assessment of hacking attempts, as well as the ability to share critical information in a secure and timely manner.

Under the terms of the protocol, EC3 will help member state law enforcement agencies coordinate the international aspects of any investigation into cross-border hacking attempts.

The adoption of the protocol comes after major cyber attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya that targeted national infrastructure and private businesses across Europe and elsewhere in 2017 demonstrated that member states were insufficiently prepared for the evolving nature of hackers’ methods.

Noting that the prospect of a major cyber attack having repercussions in the physical world is no longer the stuff of science fiction, Europol said the protocol complements existing EU crisis management mechanisms, and will help law enforcement agencies across tackle cyber security events of a malicious and suspected criminal nature.

Commenting on the adoption of the protocol, Wil van Gemert, Deputy Executive Director of Operations at Europol, said in a statement: “It is of critical importance that we increase cyber preparedness in order to protect the EU and its citizens from large scale cyber-attacks.

“Law enforcement plays a vital role in the emergency response to reduce the number of victims affected and to preserve the necessary evidence to bring to justice the ones who are responsible for the attack.”

The protocol was launched after the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) last week criticised the British government’s efforts to prepare for major cyber attacks from hacking groups or hostile nation states such as Russia.

The NAO said Britain remains vulnerable to hacking attempts that could affect crucial infrastructure, domestic networks, and businesses.

NAO chief Amyas Morse commented: “The government has demonstrated its commitment to improving cyber security.

“However, it is unclear whether its approach will represent value for money in the short term and how it will prioritise and fund this activity after 2021.”

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British government releases £100 million to help police battle UK’s spiralling knife crime epidemic

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UK’s spiralling knife crime epidemic

The UK government yesterday announced £100 million (S132.7 million) in new funding to help police in England and Wales fight the country’s worsening knife crime crisis.

Since the beginning of the year, 39 people have been stabbed to death across the UK, including 17-year-old Jodie Chesney, who was knifed in the back in east London earlier this month.

Last year, the criminal justice system in England and Wales dealt with 21,484 knife and offensive weapon cases, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), with homicides reaching 135 in London alone.

Announcing the new money during his spring statement to UK Parliament yesterday, Chancellor Philip Hammond said the extra money would be used to bolster law enforcement agencies in the worst-affected regions across England and Wales, and will pay for a “surge” in street policing in problem areas.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who had pressed hard for extra funding to tackle the issue, commented: “I’ve listened to [police] concerns and this £100 million – including £80 million new funding from the Treasury – will allow them to swiftly crack down on knife crime on the areas of the country where it is most rife.

“This is on top of the £970 million of additional money that policing is already due to receive from April from the Government and Council Tax.”

In a report published earlier this week, England’s education regulator Ofsted revealed that organised criminal gangs are encouraging children to take knives into classes with “the sole purpose” of getting them excluded.

British county lines drugs gangs are known to recruit vulnerable children at risk of being expelled from school in the knowledge their victims will be easier to manipulate once they no longer have access to trusted adults such as teachers.

Debate has raged in the UK as to the cause of the escalation of the country’s violent crime epidemic, with some blaming police cuts and austerity introduced under the current Conservative government, and others pointing to a fall in police stop and searches, and cultural issues present in certain communities.

At the beginning of this week, police forces across England and Wales launched a seven-day crackdown on knife crime, which has seen officers set up knife surrender bins, increase stop and search activities, and conduct a number of weapons sweeps.

Launching the campaign in Suffolk, Superintendent Kerry Cutler said: “Young people face all sorts of pressures and therefore family, friends and role models are an important influence in their lives.

“Having a conversation with them about the dangers of carrying a knife may be difficult but talking and listening is critical to finding a solution to the growing problem we have seen nationally around knife crime.”

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