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Coordinated global crackdown on wildlife crime results in seizure of thousands of protected species

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coordinated global crackdown on wildlife crime

A global operation targeting wildlife traffickers has resulted in the seizure of thousands of live animals and animal parts.

Coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organisation (WCO), Operation Thunderball involved police and border officials from 109 countries, who targeted wildlife smugglers and poachers along trafficking routes and in environmental crime hotspots across the globe.

The ongoing intelligence-led initiative, based in Singapore, has so far 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.

Investigators participating in the operation have also confiscated nearly 1,500 live reptiles, almost 10,000 live turtles and tortoises, and approaching 10,000 marine wildlife items, such as coral, seahorses, dolphins and sharks.

In Nigeria, the operation saw the discovery of half a tonne of pangolin parts that were bound for Asia, while three individuals were arrested in Uruguay on suspicion of attempting to smuggle more than 400 protected wildlife species.

Elsewhere, an investigation focused on the online illicit wildlife trade resulted in 21 arrests in Spain and the seizure in Italy of 1,850 birds.

Over the course of the month-long operation, customs officers in the UK made 168 seizures containing thousands of products regulated under the Convention on International Trade in  Endangered Species (CITES) at ports and airports, including four products derived from crocodile, two bear skulls and skins, and 750kgs of products containing Aloe andongensis marketed as beard grooming kits.

Meanwhile in Canada, enforcement officers responded to over 100 complaints and tips received from the public concerning habitat and wildlife destruction as a result of the operation, leading to the interception of items such as pangolin carcasses, saiga antelope, sturgeon caviar and a wallet made with crocodile skin.

Interpol said the effort led to the identification of nearly 600 suspects and several arrests across the world, adding that it expects further detentions and prosecutions as investigations linked to the operation progress.

In a statement, Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “Wildlife crime not only strips our environment of its resources, it also has an impact through the associated violence, money laundering and fraud.

“Operations like Thunderball are concrete actions targeting the transnational crime networks profiting from these illicit activities. We will continue our efforts with our partners to ensure that there are consequences for criminals who steal from our environment.”

Ivonne Higuero, Secretary General of CITES, commented: “It is vital that we stop criminals from putting livelihoods, security, economies and the sustainability of our planet at risk by illegally exploiting wild flora and fauna.”

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Preference for fentanyl highest among young, white opioid users in US, study finds

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preference for fentanyl highest among young, white opioid users

US opioid users who prefer the drugs they take to contain fentanyl are more likely to be young, white addicts who consume illicit substances on a daily basis, according to study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Researchers from the institution polled more than 300 opioid users in three US states, discovering that 27% of respondents expressed a preference for their opioids to contain fentanyl, which is said to be as many as 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine.

According to the results of the survey, the median age of those who prefer their opioids to contain fentanyl was 38, which compared to 45 for those who would rather their drugs did not.

Ethnically, some 59% of those who prefer their drugs to contain fentanyl identified as being non-Hispanic white, compared to only 29% who like their opioids to be fentanyl-free.

In a statement, study author Susan Sherman said: “These findings will help us think about how best to target interventions to prevent opioid overdoses.

“Preference for fentanyl for a minority of participants likely reflects the fact that in their street opioid markets, fentanyl-containing products are all they’ve known and used.”

In March, data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that overdose deaths linked to the consumption of fentanyl in the US were rising fastest among African Americans.

The statistics showed that while non-Hispanic white people continued to account for most overdose deaths linked to the drug, fatalities associated with fentanyl were rising fastest among non-Hispanic black users.

Separately, American businessman Stephen Schwarzman this week told CBNC that Beijing officials are working to stop shipments of fentanyl from leaving China, where illicit factories produce large quantities of the synthetic opioid to sell into countries such as the US.

“There’s a huge reorganisation going on in China regarding fentanyl to try to shut it down,” Schwarzman said after a trip to the country.

“And if what [officials there told me] is true, you will see this really going down quickly.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly accused China of failing to do enough to prevent shipments of fentanyl from being exported from within its borders to the US.

Last month, Beijing hit back by claiming the US was attempting to pass the blame for its spiralling opioid crisis, urging the White House to examine the domestic drivers of the epidemic.

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EU customs authorities saw fake goods seizures soar last year after counterfeiters sent more parcels through post

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EU customs authorities saw fake good seizures soar

Seizure of fake goods imported into the European Union rose last year as customs agencies across the 28-natiom bloc saw a marked increase in counterfeit items being smuggled into member states in small parcels in express and postal traffic, according to new figures released by the European Commission.

In 2018, the number of consignments intercepted in EU nations rose from 57,433 during the previous year to 69,354, although the total number of induvial fake items taken out of circulation by member state customs workers decreased compared to previous years.

A total of nearly 27 million bogus articles with an estimated street value of almost €740 million ($813 million) were seized in member states over the 12-month period.

Counterfeit tobacco products were the most seized item in the EU in 2018, accounting for 15% of all fake products intercepted.

These were followed closely by toys (14%), packaging material (9%), labels, tags and stickers (9%) and clothing (8%).

Household items such as bathing and beauty products, pharmaceuticals, toys, and electrical household goods accounted for nearly 37% of the total number of intercepted items, the majority of which had come from China.

North Macedonia was found to be the source of the highest number of counterfeit alcoholic beverages, while the leading source of other beverages, perfumes and cosmetics was Turkey.

Away from mainland China, a high number of counterfeit watches, smartphones and accessories, ink cartridges and toners, CDs/DVDs, labels, tags and stickers seized in the EU in 2018 had been imported from Hong Kong, while the main source of bogus computer equipment was India.

Elsewhere, Cambodia was the leading source of counterfeit cigarettes, while the highest amount of fake packaging material came from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In a statement, EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici said: “Customs officers across the EU have seen success in tracking down and seizing counterfeit goods that are often dangerous for consumers.

“Their job is made even more difficult by the rise in small packages entering the EU through online sales.

“Protecting the integrity of our Single Market and Customs Union, and effective enforcement of intellectual property rights in the international supply chain are also priorities. We need to continue stepping up the efforts against counterfeiting and piracy.”

In March, a report published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office revealed that counterfeit products account for 3.3% of all global trade.

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Spanish and French police break up major child abduction and people smuggling network

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child abduction and people smuggling network

A Europol-backed operation involving police officers from Spain and France has resulted in the arrest of 29 suspected members of a human trafficking network that incited children to abscond from protection centres in Spain and travel to western Europe.

The gang, which is also said to have been involved in the smuggling of drugs, livestock and illicit tobacco, used Algerian, Malian, Moroccan and Syrian recruiters to target both adult and child migrants from their own countries.

Once recruited, the migrants were trafficked from the Spanish port city of Almería to France on buses owned by businesses based in France, Morocco and Spain.

The contraband was hidden in specially-constructed hidden compartments that had been built into the vehicles in order to avoid the attention of law enforcement agents.

Of the 26 suspects arrested, 26 were detained in Spain, and three in France.

Eleven of those held were remanded in custody.

As well as the 29 arrests, the operation also resulted in the confiscation of €33,000 ($36,270) in cash, various documents, computer equipment, more than 200kgs of cannabis, a vehicle and a trailer, all of which were seized during searches of 14 properties.

The gang’s recruiters are said to have approached migrants who had recently arrived in Almeria having entered Spain illegally, offering to take them by bus to France or Brussels for three times more than a regular passenger would be charged.

The Malian recruiters are said to have specialised in targeting unaccompanied migrant children at a protection centre in Almeria, encouraging the minors to use violence against social workers in order to escape.

According to Spanish police, the gang paid a local hotel owner in Almeria to provide accommodation to migrants while they waited to be herded onto buses, with many being forced to sleep in overcrowded rooms.

Police launched an investigation into the network behind the plot following the arrest of a Spanish national in France who was caught driving a bus carrying 22 irregular migrants, six of whom were children.

The probe led to the discovery of a major criminal network that was allegedly headed up a Moroccan nation who owned a bus company.

In a statement, Europol said: “Europol supported the operation with coordination, analysis and information exchange.

“Europol financed the organisation of an operational meeting and provided on-the-sport operational support during the action day with the deployment of two analysts in Spain and one in France to support the action in the field.”

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