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European police forces dismantle major organised crime network that made €680 million in two years

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crime network that made €680 million

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.”

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UK consumers warned of counterfeit toys that could cause physical harm to children

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counterfeit toys that could cause physical harm to children

The UK’s Local Government Association has warned consumers in England and Wales to be on the lookout for dangerous fake toys in the run-up to Christmas.

In a statement issued after a string of seizures of hazardous counterfeit toys over the past few weeks, the Association, which represents local councils across England and Wales, cautioned shoppers to be alert to the tell-tale signs that products aimed at children might be bogus.

Trading standards investigators in the UK recently confiscated electric scooters that came without any safety documentation, tens of thousands teddy bears that posed a choking hazard, and audio products that exceeded legal decibel limits that had the potential to cause damage to children’s hearing.

The association also warned of fake versions of L.O.L Surprise! Dolls, which were the “must-have” gift over last year’s festive period, that were found to contain phthalates, a chemical that can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system.

Consumers should also exercise caution when looking to take advantage of last-minute offers online for products that have sold out at mainstream retailers, as these are oftentimes run by scammers who will take shoppers money and send nothing in return, the association said.

Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, commented: “Christmas is a hotbed for criminals who put profit before safety by selling dangerous, counterfeit toys at cheap prices to unsuspecting shoppers.

“Bargain hunters need to be aware that fake, substandard toys can break and cause injuries or pose choking hazards, toxic materials can cause burns and serious harm, while illegal electrical toys can lead to fires or electrocution.

“It’s not unusual for rogue sellers to cash in on desperate shoppers by selling fake versions of ‘must-have’ toys sold out in well-known retailers, or claim to have them in stock on their website when they actually don’t exist.

Much as it is for retailers the world over, the Christmas period is one of the busiest and most profitable times of year for fraudsters and counterfeiters.

At the end of November, a toy importer in Los Angeles was charged with making and possessing more than $1.4 million in counterfeit goods, including toys, backpacks and playing cards.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that Wan Piao had been charged with seven felony counts of the infringement of intellectual property rights, affecting brands such as Pokémon, Hello Kitty, Angry Birds, Lego Ninjago, JanSport, Shopkins and Super Mario.

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Interpol gathers experts in Singapore for conference on wildlife crime

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conference on wildlife crime

Interpol has gathered together scores of representatives from a number of sectors in Singapore for the 30th meeting of the agency’s Wildlife Crime Working Group.

Attended by some 160 experts from law enforcement agencies, representatives from government departments, NGOs, transport and banking firms, academics and social media companies, the conference provided delegates with an opportunity to review the latest environmental threats, trafficking trends and challenges to tackling the criminal networks behind such crimes.

The week-long event, which took place last month, examined how wildlife crime can involve industries beyond those which focus on the environment, with wildlife criminals using transport systems and online platforms to facilitate their activities.

The meeting brought together representatives from each of those sectors for the first time.

They provided other attendees with their perspectives on wildlife crime and spent time building relationships with law enforcement officials.

As well as hearing how wildlife crime has far-reaching consequences for the environment, global economies, communities and societies, delegates debated forestry crime, financial crimes associated with wildlife trafficking, challenges of transnational enforcement and operations, and wildlife crime training efforts.

In a statement, Interpol Assistant Director of Illicit Markets Daoming Zhang said: “We see animals and their parts trafficked using ships and airplanes, sold online via the Darknet and the illicit profits unknowingly passed through financial institutions.

“It is clear that the only way to truly eradicate these crimes and protect the world’s wildlife is through a united effort bringing together all stakeholders to develop multi-sector solutions.”

In a case study, attendees examined Operation Thunderball, a global operation coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) that targeted wildlife traffickers.

The operation, which involved police and border officials from 109 countries, resulted in the recovery of 23 live primates, 30 big cats, 440 pieces of elephant tusk, five rhino horns and more than 4,300 birds.

Participants at the conference also elected a new Executive Board to guide the Working Group’s activities during the coming years.

Dylan Swain, the new Chair of the Wildlife Crime Working Group, commented: “To continue the momentum of recent years, we need to challenge the thinking about how we fight wildlife crime.

“The opportunity for enforcement agencies to come together with NGOs, civil society and academia enables us to share and develop new approaches to tackling the illegal trade in wildlife.”

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Colombian and Spanish police smash two drug labs capable of producing two tonnes of cocaine a month

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Colombian and Spanish police smash two drug labs

Police in Spain have teamed up with their counterparts in Colombia to shut down two clandestine cocaine processing facilities said to have been capable of pumping out two tonnes of the drug every month.

One of the factories was located in the Spanish municipality of Casasbuenas in the province of Toledo, while the other was found deep in the Colombian jungle and was controlled by Front 21 of the FARC dissidents.

At the Spanish site, investigators arrested four Colombian nationals who are said to have been brought into the country specifically to turn coca base into high-purity cocaine.

Agents from Spain’s elite Grupo Especial de Operaciones (GEO) unit also detained an armed individual whose job it was to guard the facility and monitor the work of the four Colombian cocaine “cooks”.

As well as making the arrests, Spanish officers also seized 150kgs of coca base, 7kgs of cocaine that had been processed and was ready for distribution, seven tonnes of chemicals used as precursors for the production of cocaine hydrochloride, a gun and more than €100,000 ($110,744) in cash.

Meanwhile on the Colombian side of the operation, another secret laboratory was raided in the jungle in Tolima that was used for the processing of cocaine base paste and cocaine hydrochloride.

Police in Colombia seized 260 litres of coca base that was being processed, 400kgs of coca leaf, and a large quantity of precursor chemicals.

In total, nine people were arrested in Spain, including the leader of the organisation and his lieutenant, who controlled another centre for the adulteration and cutting of cocaine in the province of Guadalajara.

One of the suspects is reported to have owned a network of front companies that the gang used to import coal from South America that had been impregnated with cocaine.

Once the coal had entered Spain, it would be transferred to processing plants where experts would use special technique to extract the cocaine before preparing it for distribution.

A joint intranational investigation into the gang’s activities was launched in the first few months of this year when authorities in Colombia learned that a Colombian national was plotting to set up a conspiracy to smuggle cocaine hidden in different legal merchandise into Spain before using clandestine factories to extract the drugs and ready them for sale.

Back in May, it was reported that Spanish investigators had broken up a Colombian gang that impregnated cocaine into plastic pellets before smuggling them to Madrid and Toledo for extraction.

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