A Europe-wide crackdown on illegal sports doping has resulted in the disruption of 17 organised crime networks involved in the production and trafficking of counterfeit and smuggled medicines.
Led by Europol and involving investigators from the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf), the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) and police forces in 33 countries, Operation Viribus also resulted in the location and shutdown of nine illicit doping production laboratories, the seizure of almost 24 tonnes of raw steroid powder, and the arrest of 234 suspects.
In total, 3.8 million illicit doping substances and counterfeit medicines where impounded during the operation, including dietary supplements, medicines and sport and food supplements.
Intelligence gathered during the effort revealed that wholesalers are importing huge quantities of steroids to European countries to feed the large demand for such substances, and that non-professional athletes, bikers and body builders are buying small parcels of steroids, mainly from Asia or eastern Europe to sell in gyms.
Investigators who participated in the crackdown also noted an increased use of social media for the advertisement, promotion and sale of anabolic products, and that small organised crime groups are investing in illegal labs and selling doping substances.
Europol noted in a statement that relatively unsophisticated organised crime groups can set up illicit doping labs with relatively few resources, and can acquire the knowledge required to start producing counterfeit medicines easily online.
Abuse of the substances produced by these networks, which are typically consumed by non-professional athletes and gym-goers, can lead to a range of serious health problems, including heart attacks and arteriosclerosis, damage the reproductive system, liver and kidneys, as well as an increased risk of developing cancer.
Commenting on the success of the operation, Wada Director of Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) Gunter Younger said: “We would like to congratulate all member states and other organisations that contributed to this successful operation.
“This is the sort of multi-party collaboration that produces real results and can make a significant impact on the availability of counterfeit and illegal drugs used by some athletes globally.
“Wada I&I is pleased to have been involved in Operation Viribus and we stand ready to continue this sort of role in any ongoing operations in what is a collaborative fight against sport fraud across the continent.
“Outside of this, we continue to forge partnerships with law enforcement agencies in Europe and throughout the world.”
Preference for fentanyl highest among young, white opioid users in US, study finds
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.
EU customs authorities saw fake goods seizures soar last year after counterfeiters sent more parcels through post
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.
Spanish and French police break up major 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.”
- Preference for fentanyl highest among young, white opioid users in US, study finds
- EU customs authorities saw fake goods seizures soar last year after counterfeiters sent more parcels through post
- Spanish and French police break up major child abduction and people smuggling network
- The mystery of why people continue to fall for dark web hitmen-for-hire scams
- EU Commissioner for Human Rights calls on member states to protect migrants from people smugglers
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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