An Interpol-backed operation conducted by law enforcement authorities in west Africa’s Niger has resulted in the rescue of 232 victims of human trafficking, 46 of whom were aged under 18.
As part of Operation Sarraounia, more than 100 Nigerien National Police officers were deployed to various trafficking hotspots in Niger capital Niamey, resulting in the detention of 18 suspects who were arrested on suspicion of being involved in human trafficking and crimes against minors.
The groundwork for the 10-day initiative, which took place at the end of last month, was laid by officers from Interpol’s Vulnerable Communities unit, which provided training on how to conduct interviews with victims of human trafficking and child sexual exploitation.
Interpol also provided on-the-ground support during the live operation in the form of a team of investigators that helped regional authorities make use of the international policing organisation’s capabilities, including its databases and system of international notices.
Those rescued included 37 girls aged between 10 and 17 who had been forced to work as prostitutes in hostels and makeshift camps located on the outskirts of Niamey.
Other children who were rescued as a result of the operation had been taken from their families and forced to beg at markets and bus stations.
After being rescued, victims were offered immediate medical attention that revealed many of them were suffering from several serious physical conditions, including advanced human papillomavirus infections.
Having received treatment, victims were returned to their families and provided with follow-up support from local social services and NGOs.
Commenting on the operation, Jürgen Stock, Interpol Secretary General, said: “Whether it’s children, men or women, traffickers show little regard for the health and well-being of victims, they are simply a commodity to make money.
“As vital as it is to track and arrest those behind these crimes, we also need to ensure that those rescued are protected and respected throughout the police process.”
The operation resulted in authorities in Niger requesting six Interpol Green Notices warning of the danger posed by the individuals who recruited and sexually exploited the young girls who were saved during the effort.
Barka Dankassoua, Commissaire de police and Head of NCB Niger, said: “Operation Sarraounia has shed much light on several criminal groups and trafficking routes. The skills our officers have learned will be put to good use as we follow up on a number of leads.”
The operation was also supported by the Human Dignity Foundation, the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World and Project Flyway.
Audacious ‘Fast & Furious-style’ truck cargo theft gang smashed by French and Romanian police
A Europol-backed operation has resulted in the dismantling of a 100-member organised crime network that is believed to have been behind scores of truck cargo thefts across Europe.
The EU’s law enforcement agency said the gang’s methods were similar to those seen in the popular Hollywood Fast & Furious film franchise, and that its members had been linked to more than 150 cargo heist crimes that are estimated to have resulted in damage worth over €10 million ($11.2 million).
As part of an international operation codenamed Arrow, 37 members of the gang were arrested in Romania by officers from the Romanian National Police (Poliția Română) and the French National Gendarmerie (Gendarmerie Nationale) yesterday.
These arrests, which took place during raids on 73 properties on Monday, came after other members of the gang were held in numerous European countries over the course of the past months.
Earlier this year, police in France arrested 10 suspected members of the gang as part of Operation Arrow, while a further 10 were held in Spain, six in the Netherlands, and an additional five in Sweden.
Members of the gang, which originated from Romania, are said to have targeted goods vehicles by driving a car in front of them in order to make them slow down while using other vehicles to hold up other nearby traffic.
Meanwhile, gang members in other vehicles would drive up to the back of the trucks they targeted before climbing out of sunroofs, opening the back of their victims’ trailers, and stealing whatever was inside.
The items the gang stole would then either be loaded into the vehicles in which they were travelling or tossed to the side of the road so as they could be picked up by thieves following in cars behind.
Oftentimes, the drivers of the vehicles the gang targeted and other road users are said to have been oblivious to thefts.
Between the years of 2016 and 2017, members of the gang were thought to have been behind the theft of goods from nine moving trucks on motorways in Romania, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.
In a statement on its website, Europol said: “Involved from the very onset of the investigation in December 2016, Europol brought together the different police forces involved to help them connect the dots between their own national investigations and provided analytical support before and during the action days.”
Italian police target dishonest traders exploiting public fear of the coronavirus
Police in Italy are conducting a crackdown on crooked traders looking to exploit fears over the coronavirus outbreak as the number deaths related to the disease in the country continues to rise.
The Guardia di Finanza law enforcement agency has arrested dozens of fraudsters for preying on worried members of the public by ramping up the price of basic personal hygiene products and falsely making claims that the items they sell can either protect against the disease or cure people who have already contracted it.
Italian investigators said traders and businesses with no experience in healthcare are currently being probed for fraudulently selling such products, including hardware stores, detergent dealers, auto parts sellers, direct growers and cattle breeders.
Products including ambient ionisers, masks, overalls, protective gloves, sanitising products, glasses, sanitary covers and food supplements are being misleadingly advertised to Italian consumers as items that can either protect against or cure the coronavirus, Guardia di Finanza said.
The force said the worst offenders could be jailed for two years if convicted of fraud.
Italy yesterday said it would shut every school and university in the country to stop the spread of coronavirus, and announced that it may ask for a temporary suspension of EU budget rules as it struggles to contain the disease.
Separately, Le360 reported earlier this week that police in Morocco had arrested a British lorry driver who was attempting to smuggle 100,000 medical face masks worth an estimated $3.3 million out of the country in a bid to exploit coronavirus fears in the UK.
The trucker, who was arrested in the Port of Tanger Med east of the city of Tangier, is said to have been planning to exploit a shortage of face masks in Britain by selling those he was transporting for $33 each.
Amazon said this week that it had removed one million items from its website for price gouging over coronavirus fears.
The online retail giant said items such as hand sanitiser and face masks were being traded on its platform at mark-ups of up to 2,000%.
In a statement, the company said: “There is no place for price-gouging on Amazon.
“We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis and, in line with our longstanding policy, have recently blocked or removed tens of thousands of offers.
“We continue to actively monitor our store and remove offers that violate our policies.”
UK pay-TV pirate must pay back £520,000 after selling illicit streaming boxes that provided free access to Premier League football games
A British pay-TV pirate has been ordered to hand over £520,000 ($653,000) after being found guilty of selling hundreds of illegal streaming devices that provided free access to Premier League football content.
John Dodds, who was jailed alongside accomplice Jason Richards for four and a half years in April 2018 for selling the Kodi-style boxes to hundreds of pubs and clubs in north-east of England, was told at Newcastle Crown Court on Thursday that he must pay back £521,000 within three months or face an additional five years behind bars.
Describing Dodds as an unreliable and dishonest character, a judge made the order after ruling he had concealed proceeds of his criminal activities by hiding large amounts of cash in his house and placing property assets in his daughter’s name.
As well as selling devices that provided illegal access to Premiership content, prosecutors said that Dodds and Richards regularly left their customers with faulty streaming devices that did not work.
In total, it is estimated that the pair made at least £1.5 million from the sale of the illegal streaming boxes and other television equipment.
During their criminal trial in 2018, Newcastle Crown Court was told that Dodds, who had a previous conviction for threatening a worker at satellite television broadcaster Sky, attempted to prevent evidence being discovered by hiding the keys to a car full of equipment and documentation, including a list of all his clients, several streets away from his home.
The men were initially arrested following an investigation instigated by the Premier League that was carried out in partnership with FACT, a UK intellectual property protection organisation.
Speaking after Dodds was told he must pay the money back, Premier League Director of Legal Services Kevin Plumb commented: “This is a welcome judgment and we are pleased the courts have recognised how serious an issue illegal streaming is – it is a crime which has very significant consequences.
“The defendant has now been ordered to forfeit the proceeds of his criminal activities, which we have requested go directly back to the public purse.
“The money recovered will go towards funding the courts and law enforcement agencies to help continue the brilliant work they do in helping bring people like this to justice.”
In March of Last year, three men were sentenced to a total of 17 years by a UK court after being convicted of running a pirate streaming service that offered illegal access to live Premier League football matches.
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