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Interpol-led crackdown on human trafficking in West Africa results in rescue of almost 220 victims

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Interpol-led crackdown on human trafficking in West Africa

An Interpol-led operation intended to crack down on human trafficking in West Africa has resulted in the rescue of almost 220 suspected smuggling gang victims in Benin and Nigeria.

Operation Epervier II, which involved some 100 officers in both countries carrying out raids and identity checks at markets, airports, seaports and in settlements, saw 47 suspected traffickers arrested, and the seizure of a number of vehicles, mobile phones and computers, as well as a quantity of cash.

A number of suspected victims were rescued from premises where it is thought they were being forced to work as prostitutes.

Interpol said many of the 157 children rescued during the operation had been smuggled across borders and had been forced to work in markets, selling goods, fetching water, cooking, carrying heavy loads, or working as housemaids.

One young boy rescued by investigators at the land border between Benin and Nigeria had been forced to carry heavy goods such as bags of rice weighing up to 40kgs between the two countries.

Many victims of human trafficking in the region are recruited by gangs that use deception and coercion, Interpol said, noting how they are routinely held in bondage while carrying out labour intensive activities.

All of the suspected victims identified during the operation originated from Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Togo.

Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock commented: “Human trafficking is a transnational crime from which the vulnerable, especially children, simply cannot walk away.

“This operation underlines the need for cross-border collaboration between law enforcement and all stakeholders to ensure that together we can enhance our prevention, protection and prosecution efforts.”

Before the operation began, officers in both Benin and Nigeria were given specialist training provided by Interpol as part of the international law enforcement agency’s efforts to build sustainable capacity to deal with cases of human trafficking and migrant smuggling in the region.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Hounde Seidou, the Police Divisional Commissioner of Benin’s Central Bureau for the Protection of Minors and Families and the Prevention of Human Trafficking (OCPM), said: “Nobody belongs in the markets or on the streets as slave labourers. As law enforcement officers it is our duty to combat human trafficking, especially when children are involved.”

In December last year, another Interpol-backed operation targeting migrant smuggling gangs across the Americas resulted in the arrest of 49 suspected people traffickers.

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Californian regulators want to force legal cannabis stores to display QR codes containing licence info

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Californian regulators want to force legal cannabis stores to display QR codes

Regulators in the US state of California want licensed cannabis sellers to display QR codes that verify their legal status in a bid to help crack down on the illicit vaping products that are thought to have been behind an outbreak of lung injuries across America.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control proposed new emergency legislation that would compel authorised cannabis traders to display QR codes containing information about their licensing status in their store windows, and to carry such codes while transporting or delivering the drug.

The proposed new rules are intended to help consumers confirm they are buying from reputable and fully licensed sources, and aid regulators and law enforcement agents as they attempt to guarantee safety levels in the legal cannabis market.

It is also hoped that the proposed new regulations would help educate cannabis buyers about the importance of purchasing supplies from licensed and regulated sources, and the dangers of buying bootleg products from traders that have not received approval from local authorities.

After scanning the codes using a smart device, cannabis buyers would be sent to the Bureau’s Online Licence Search, where they would be able to access information relating to the trader’s licence status, as well as details about a trader’s location so as buyers can be confident a retailer is not displaying counterfeit credentials.

Commenting on the proposed new rules, Bureau chief Lori Ajax said: “The proposed regulations will help consumers avoid purchasing cannabis goods from unlicensed businesses by providing a simple way to confirm licensure immediately before entering the premises or receiving a delivery.

“These requirements will also assist law enforcement in distinguishing between legal and illegal transportation of cannabis goods.”

In September last year, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said a major outbreak of serious lung injury among users of vaping products had been linked to counterfeit THC products.

After conducting interviews about ecigarette use with 86 patients in Illinois and Wisconsin who had suffered lung injuries, the agency found that 87% had used THC-containing vaping products, the majority of which were prefilled cartridges that had been obtained from informal sources.

In an update issued earlier this month, the CDC revealed that as of 14 January, it had received reports of a total of 2,668 cases or deaths linked to the use of vaping products from all 50 states.

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Australian tax authorities seize and destroy illicit tobacco crop with estimated excise value of A$34.5 million

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illicit tobacco crop with estimated excise value of A$34.5 million

Tax authorities in Australia have confiscated and destroyed more than 26 tonnes of illicit tobacco that would have deprived the country’s government of an estimated A$34.5 million ($23. 55 million) in tax had it been sold on the black market.

The seizure was made after agents from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) carried out raids at illicit tobacco farms across at five sites in New South Wales (NSW).

Acting on intelligence and in cooperation with officers from NSW Police, ATO investigators discovered 50 acres of illicit tobacco crops, of which 30 acres contained mature plants almost ready for harvesting, and a further 20 acres that recently plated crops.

The ATO said no arrests had been made in connection with the illicit tobacco, but added that the operation resulted in the identification of two men who were in Australia illegally.

Police are continuing to investigate the discovery of the crops, as well as the alleged illegal removal of water from the Hastings River as part of the cultivation process.

Commenting on the seizure, ATO Assistant Commissioner Ian Read said: “The trade in illicit tobacco products in Australia has widespread negative consequences across the community. Tobacco growing operations are not run by small producers or farmers.

“They are run by organised criminal syndicates who deliberately engage in illegal activities.

“Involvement in illicit tobacco production is a serious offence. This type of activity takes vital money away from the community and places it directly into the hands of organised crime syndicate.”

In September of last year, 9News reported that the market for smuggled, illicit and counterfeit cigarettes exploded across the country in 2019, with Australian Border Force officers seizing more than 300 tonnes of smuggled contraband tobacco.

That figure was more than three times higher than the amount seized in 2017.

“We’re talking about large criminal entities interested in making money off the tobacco industry,” Western Australia Border Force Commander Rod O’Donnell commented.

“There’s money to be made if you can get the products in and sold into the black-market economy.”

Last month, Australian police arrested a man in connection with a plot to smuggle tobacco products with an estimated excise value of A$24 million into the country.

Officers from Australia’s Illicit Tobacco Taskforce (ITTF) detained the man at Melbourne Airport before he was later charged with five offences under the Customs Act 1901.

Prosecutors claimed the man was involved in a plot to smuggle almost 16 tonnes of loose-leaf tobacco and over 20 million cigarettes into Australia.

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Over 200 held in Interpol-backed operation targeting Balkan human trafficking networks

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Interpol-backed operation targeting Balkan human trafficking networks

An Interpol-backed operation targeting human trafficking and migrant smuggling rings in the Balkans has resulted in the arrest of 236 organised crime network members.

Operation Theseus, an eight-day initiative that took place last month, involved 3,000 immigration and law enforcement agents from countries including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Moldova, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia and Turkey.

As well as resulting in the detention of scores of suspected members of organised immigration crime gangs, the operation also saw specialist units dispatched to smuggling hotspots such as border points, rail and bus stations and entertainment districts rescue 89 victims of human trafficking.

The crackdown also resulted in the detection of 2,000 migrants.

Over the course of the campaign, participating investigators carried out 2.5 million passenger checks and 54,000 vehicle assessments and monitored a total of 1,500 flights.

Raids carried out during the operation resulted in the seizure of more than 1,500 counterfeit passports and national ID cards, 30 boats, 200 inflatable boats and buoys, 10 firearms, 60kgs of drugs and $200,000 in cash.

Commenting on the success of the operation, Interpol chief Jürgen Stock said in a statement: “Organised crime groups prey on the vulnerable and help them cross borders illegally for hefty sums.

“For some, the relationship ends on arrival but for others, it is only just the beginning of a bleak future of exploitation.

“Interpol’s role is to help police identify and break the networks behind this traffic and ensure their activities become more risky and less lucrative.”

Interpol said the operation was part of its wider efforts to disrupt human trafficking and migrant smuggling in the region, and was funded by the German Federal Foreign Office.

Separately, French and Dutch police have broken up a major organised immigration crime network that is thought to have smuggled some 10,000 Kurdish migrants into the UK.

The Europol-backed operation resulted in the detention of 23 suspected members of the gang, and the seizure of guns and cars.

Members of the network are said to have charged migrants as much as €7 000 ($7,732) each to be smuggled into the UK in refrigerated trucks.

In a statement, Europol said: “On the action day, Europol deployed two experts on-the-spot, one in France and one in the Netherlands, to cross-check operational information in real-time. This case was also developed as part of EMPACT JOT Dunqett operational action.”

 

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