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Global food fraud crackdown results in seizure of goods worth $117 million and arrest of 672 suspects

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global food fraud crackdown

Fake food and drink products estimated to be worth $117 million have been seized during a global coordinated crackdown on food fraud coordinated by Interpol and Europol’s Intellectual Property Crime Coordination Centre.

Law enforcement officials taking part in the latest instalment of Operation Opson, which is intended to target criminals involved in the sale of counterfeit and substandard food and drink products, also arrested 672 individuals across the world.

Taking place between December 2018 and April this year, Operation Opson VIII saw police, customs officers, food regulatory authorities and private sector partners in 78 countries target individuals and organisations involved in the growing global food fraud trade.

Investigators participating in the effort successfully removed approximately 16, 000 tonnes and 33 million litres of potentially dangerous fake food and drink from global supply chains after collectively carrying out over 67,000 inspections at shops, markets, airports, seaports and industrial estates.

Authorities contributing to the operation reported discovering cheese and chicken products labelled with fraudulent expiry dates, drink products that had been adulterated with controlled drugs, and meat that was stored in unsanitary conditions.

In Zimbabwe, police confiscated more than 14,000 litres of soft drinks that contained high levels of the active ingredient in erectile dysfunction medication, while investigators in Belarus impounded more than 60 tonnes of apples that were being transported under forged documentation.

Law enforcement officers in Russia seized 4,200 litres of counterfeit alcohol as they shut down an illicit vodka production site, while their colleagues in South Africa detained three suspects in connection with the discovery of alcohol meant for export that had been repackaged and sold domestically to avoid taxes.

Elsewhere, customs investigators in Italy seized over 150,000 litres of poor-quality sunflower oil that fraudsters had attempted to pass off as extra virgin oil by adding chlorophyll and beta-carotene to the finished product.

Revealing the results of the latest Opson operation in a statement, Interpol Director of Organised and Emerging Crime Paul Stanfield said: “Counterfeit and substandard food and beverages can be found on the shelves in shops around the world, and their increasing sale online is exacerbating the threat that food crime poses to the public.

“Operation Opson VIII saw a substantial amount of counterfeit food and drink taken out of circulation, but there is much more that can be done.

“Interpol calls for further efforts and better coordination at the national, regional and international levels in order to stem this tide which endangers the health of consumers worldwide.”

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British gang that built subterranean drug factory jailed for importing cannabis worth £15 million

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subterranean drug factory

Seven members of a British drug trafficking gang have been jailed for smuggling cannabis worth £15 million ($18.4 million) into the UK in shipments of lettuce.

The huge quantity of drugs the Manchester gang sneaked into the UK was smuggled on lorries across the English Channel hidden in consignments of vegetables and kitchen equipment, according to a statement from Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

Once in the country, the cannabis was transported by front companies owned by the gang to locations in Manchester, Bolton and Warrington, where it was stored in multiple lockups.

Members of the gang were also found to have constructed an underground bunker out of buried storage units on a farm in North Wales to house a subterranean cannabis farm.

Police discovered that the gang used bogus businesses as cover for the cannabis importation and cultivation conspiracy, including a fake kitchen equipment firm.

Investigators uncovered the trafficking operation after seizing 177kgs of cannabis with an estimated street value of more than £1.5 million in August 2018.

This led to a series of raids on numerous storage units across the north of England, and the discovery of the underground cannabis factory.

Gang member Michael Harley, who was living in a caravan on the farm where the underground bunker was located, admitted that the construction was built three years previously, but told detectives that cannabis production had been halted shortly afterwards as it was too wet to grow cannabis.

On Friday at Manchester Crown Court, ringleader Scott Byrne was convicted of importing cannabis and sentenced to 13 years behind bars.

Speaking after sentencing, Detective Sergeant Richard Castley of GMP’s Serious Organised Crime Group investigating team, commented: “Thanks to the excellent work of our officers and colleagues on partner forces and agencies, we have managed to bring down a vast drugs network.

“These men were responsible for attempting to import enormous amounts of cannabis into the UK; the sale of which would have been used to further criminal enterprise.

“They even went to the expense of creating a large underground complex intended for cultivating the drug.

“However, the exceptional detective work of our investigation team was able to identify and dismantle this organised crime group.

“Consignments packaged among lettuces or kitchen equipment were intercepted and prevented from finding their way onto our streets.

“Drugs blight communities and ruin lives. Their sale is used to further the activities of organised criminal gangs who have no regard for the safety of the public or the rule of law.”

 

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Transnational crime syndicates flood Southeast Asia to exploit weak regional governance, UN study warns

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transnational crime syndicates flood Southeast Asia

A new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has cautioned that organised crime networks operating in Southeast Asia are generating record and even dangerous levels profit.

In a study titled Transnational Organised Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact,  the agency warns that recent law enforcement activity in the region and its surrounding areas has resulted in illicit groups altering their trafficking routes while transferring and scaling up their activities in locations with poor governance, partially around border areas.

Synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine have become the most valuable illicit market for crime syndicates active in the Southeast Asia region, partly on account of law enforcement action in China forcing narcotics producers to look for new production bases.

According to the report, transnational organised crime networks operating in Burma in cooperation with militias and ethnic armed groups are manufacturing and trafficking both crystalline and tablet methamphetamine.

The study also reveals that the region has become a hub for the global trade in counterfeit consumer goods and illicit pharmaceuticals, noting that Southeast Asia is a key transit point for illicit tobacco products and bogus medicines.

Elsewhere, the report reveals motorcycle gangs from Australia are relocating to the region in order to set up new chapters involved in drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and other crimes.

The Australian gangs are said to have moved into the region to set up bases for their methamphetamine and drug precursor chemical operations after coming under increased pressure from police back in their home country.

UNODC concludes that the growing power and influence of organised crime in Southeast Asia is allowing illicit syndicates to use their financial muscle to further corrupt and undermine the rule of law, and that these groups now represent a primary threat to the public security, health and sustainable development of the region.

Speaking as the report was unveiled, UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas commented: “Organised crime groups are generating tens of billions of dollars in Southeast Asia from the cross-border trafficking and smuggling of illegal drugs and precursors, people, wildlife, timber and counterfeit goods.

“Profits have expanded and illicit money is increasingly moving through the regional casino industry and other large cash flow businesses.

“Southeast Asia has an organised crime problem, and it is time to coalesce around solutions to address the conditions that have allowed illicit businesses to grow, and to secure and cooperate along borders.”

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Colombian man caught with half kilo of cocaine under wig at Barcelona airport

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Police working at Barcelona’s El Prat international airport have arrested a man who was found to have half a kilo of cocaine concealed beneath an ill-fitting hairpiece.

Officers spotted the man after he arrived on a flight from the Colombian capital of Bogota.

They noticed that he was acting in a nervous manner and appeared to be sporting a disproportionately large hairpiece under a hat.

After taking him to one side for a search, investigators discovered a package of white powder that had been stuck to the man’s head underneath the outsized toupee.

The 65-year-old was arrested immediately, and was later charged after tests confirmed that the white powder was cocaine that was estimated to be worth €30,000 ($33,390).

In one photograph released by Spain’s national police force, the man can be seen from the side wearing a wig that protrudes to an unnatural height over the top of his head.

Another shot taken from the front shows the package of cocaine clearly visible beneath the hairpiece.

In a statement cited by the Reuters news agency, Spanish police said: “There is no limit to the inventiveness of drug traffickers trying to mock controls.”

Spain, which is one of the main entry points for cocaine exported into Europe from Colombia, has seen several novel large-scale smuggling attempts over the course of the past year, the majority of which appeared to have benefitted from better planning than the wig conspiracy.

Back in June, Spanish police revealed they had arrested 11 suspected traffickers after discovering a tonne of cocaine hidden inside fake stones shipped into the country from South America.

Investigators released a video that showed officers smashing open the bogus stones to discover 785 packages of cocaine, each of which was estimated to contain more than 1kg of the drug.

Just weeks earlier, police in the country announced they had smashed a South American organised trafficking network that injected large quantities of cocaine into plastic pellets before smuggling them to three specialist laboratories in Madrid and Toledo, where the drugs would be extracted by experts who had been flown in from Colombia.

Last August, Spanish investigators intercepted 67kgs of cocaine that had been concealed inside pineapple skins.

The gang behind the plot had hollowed out fresh pineapples before filling their skins with cylinders containing as much as 7kgs of cocaine each.

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