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Italian authorities to fine NGO rescue boats picking up migrants in Mediterranean

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Italian authorities to fine NGO rescue boats

The Italian government has passed new legislation that provides the country’s law enforcement authorities with the power to fine boats that rescue migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean as much as €50,000 ($56,500).

Italian officials confirmed the introduction of the new laws on Tuesday, just a few hours before the country’s interior minister Matteo Salvini announced the shutdown of a migrant reception centre in Sicily.

The new law could see NGO vessels that pick up migrants attempting to make the potentially deadly crossing hit with fines if they do so in Italian waters or attempt to dock at the country’s sea ports without permission.

Repeat offenders could face having their vessels seized by Italian authorities.

The Italian cabinet also approved new powers that will allow investigators to launch undercover probes into the activities of people smuggling organisations, and the use of electronic eavesdropping equipment on suspected organised immigration criminals.

Salvini said he believed the new rules would help improve the security of the country.

Raising concerns about the legislation, Roland Schilling, UNHCR Regional Representative to Southern Europe, commented: “At a time when European states have largely withdrawn from rescue efforts in the Central Mediterranean, NGO vessels are more crucial than ever. Without them, it is inevitable that more lives will be lost.”

Salvini yesterday threatened to use the new measures, which have not yet gone before Italy’s parliament, on a German NGO boat that picked up migrants off the coast of Libya without permission.

Pia Klemp, the female captain of the rescue ship, which is operated by the Sea Watch charity, could face as many as 20 years behind bars if she is convicted of illegally helping migrants to cross the Mediterranean.

Over 93,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the charges against her to be dropped.

Italy announced the new laws as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) revealed that seven people drowned and 57 were rescued during an operation to save migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean earlier this week.

The IOM said that more than half those on board the vessel on which the migrants were travelling had come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon and Angola, and that the deaths brought the number of would-be asylum seekers who have lost their lives on the so-called Eastern Mediterranean route to 41 so far this year.

“The Eastern Mediterranean route is this year’s busiest sea crossing lane for irregular migrants trying to reach Europe, with 9,660 arrivals to either Greece or Cyprus through 9 June, a slight increase over the 9,352 arrivals reported through 9 June last year,” the IOM said in a statement.

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UK ticket touts who fleeced Harry Potter and Ed Sheeran fans caged for six and a half years

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UK ticket touts who fleeced Harry Potter and Ed Sheeran fans

Two British ticket touts who made millions of pounds by ripping off fans of Harry Potter, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift were yesterday jailed for a total of six and a half years following a trial at Leeds Crown Court.

Peter Hunter, 51, was handed a four-year jail term while David Thomas Smith, 66, was sentenced to 30 months behind bars after the pair were found guilty of fraudulently and dishonestly buying and reselling tickets for high-profile music and entertainment events.

Hunter and Smith are said to have raked in at least £11 million ($14.1 million) while running their BZZ Limited company, through which they purchased and sold on hundreds of tickets at hugely inflated prices to fans desperate to see their favourite artists and shows.

The pair, who were found guilty of committing their offences between 2010 and 2017, brought in a net profit of £3.5 million over the final 32 months of their fraud alone.

As well as selling customers overpriced and sometimes invalid tickets, the court found the men had also prevented thousands of people from getting hold of tickets at face value by buying up huge quantities to sell on at a massive profit.

Both men were found guilty of three counts of fraudulent trading and one of possession or control of an article for use in fraud.

A National Trading Standards investigation into Hunter and Smith revealed the pair used a number of dishonest and fraudulent tactics in order to purchase large quantities of tickets from primary ticket providers such as Ticketmaster, Eventim and AXS.

Speaking after sentencing, Lord Toby Harris, Chair of the UK’s National Trading Standards organisation, commented: “This is an important milestone in the fight to tackle online ticket touts who fraudulently buy and resell tickets to thousands of victims to line their own pockets.

“Today’s sentences send a strong message to similar online ticket touts: these are criminal offences that can lead to prison sentences.

“I hope this leads to a step-change in the secondary ticketing market, making it easier and safer for consumers buying tickets in the future.”

In June of last year, Britain’s national fraud reporting centre Action Fraud launched an awareness-raising campaign in which it appealed to music and sports fans to be on their guard against unauthorised ticket sellers ahead of the busy summer period.

The agency said it had received 4,755 reports of ticket fraud in the 13 months to the end of April last year, noting that victims across the UK had lost more than £1.6 million to ticket scammers over that time.

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Airbnb expands anti-human trafficking partnership with US NGO Polaris

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Airbnb expands anti-human trafficking partnership

Airbnb has stepped up efforts to prevent rental properties being used by human traffickers by expanding its partnership with US anti-trafficking charity Polaris.

In February 2018, the online accommodation marketplace’s Global Head of Trust and Risk Management Nick Shapiro told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the website had joined forces with Polaris to stop traffickers who sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls from using the properties it rents out.

At the time, Shapiro said Airbnb would work with Polaris to stop its properties being used as “pop-up brothels”, and train members of its staff on how to spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking.

Now, having been faced with repeated criticism for failing to tackle human trafficking, Airbnb has announced that the partnership between the two organisations will be strengthened as they endeavour to eradicate trafficking crimes across the world.

The expanded tie-up will see Airbnb and Polaris offer enhanced training to Airbnb employees, property owners and guests, which will be provided both physically and online.

Airbnb said it has worked with Polaris, which aims to tackle and support the victims of sex and labour exploitation in North America, to establish a robust training curriculum for Airbnb’s customer support agents, and develop protocols to work with law enforcement agencies.

The two organisations have also designed new methods to better flag possible exploitation on Airbnb before it happens, and convened a range of companies and local anti-human trafficking experts to explore new areas of collaboration to strengthen the private sector’s efforts in combating trafficking.

As part of the new training, company employees, property owners and guests will learn about the cause of human trafficking, how to spot signs that exploitation may be taking place, and what action to take should they have any suspicions.

In a statement, Nancy McGuire Choi, CEO of Polaris, said: “Human trafficking is an incredibly complex issue that does not lend itself to quick and easy answers.

“The depth of Airbnb’s commitment is exactly what is necessary to make a real dent in the scope of this global tragedy.”

Last September, Airbnb unveiled a new online portal through which law enforcement officials can request information about users of the short-term property rental service.

The company said the portal was designed to complement the work it does daily to keep its property owners, guests and wider communities safe.

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DEA launches crackdown on Mexican ‘super methamphetamine’ distribution hubs in major cities across US

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DEA launches crackdown on Mexican ‘super methamphetamine’ distribution hubs

The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has announced a new operation that will see investigators look to eliminate methamphetamine “transportation hubs” across America and block the distribution of the deadly drug.

Operation Crystal Shield will see the DEA target hubs to which large shipments of methamphetamine are trafficked before being broken up and sold onto dealers across the United States.

The agency said it has identified the locations of eight of these hubs, noting that it will concentrate its efforts on major smuggling operations based in Atlanta, Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Phoenix and the St Louis Division.

These locations are said to have accounted for 75% of all methamphetamine seizures made in the US last year.

The DEA noted that almost all methamphetamine currently sold in the US comes through major ports of entry along its southern border having been made in industrial-scale labs in Mexico.

Much of the methamphetamine produced in these labs is almost 100% pure and is a far cry from old-fashioned so-called “shake-and-bake” version of the drug that used to be widely made in domestic US labs.

The huge volumes of Mexican “super meth” flooding into the US has resulted in the price of the drug falling dramatically over recent years.

Once smuggled into the US, increasingly in liquid form to avoid the attention of law enforcement agents, large shipments of the drug are transported across the country by tractor trailers and personal vehicles to the transfer hubs the DEA is targeting.

In a statement announcing the new crackdown, DEA Acting Administrator Uttam Dhillon said: “Methamphetamine is by far the most prevalent illegal drug being sold on the streets of our community, and therefore warrants a focused plan of attack.

“Meth trafficking makes up more than 60% of the federal drug cases we prosecute in the Western District of Missouri.

“Operation Crystal Shield provides a strategy to stanch the flow of methamphetamine being smuggled into our state by the Mexican cartels.

“If we can reduce the supply of methamphetamine, we can reduce the violence and other criminal activity associated with drug trafficking.”

Earlier this month, authorities San Francisco announced the opening of a new “drug sobering centre” primarily aimed at methamphetamine users suffering from the side effects of taking the substance.

In January, a study published by JAMA Network Open revealed that use of methamphetamine is rocketing across the US, with the number urine samples testing positive for the drug rising from about 1.4% in 2013 to around 8.4% last year.

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