Italian police seized property and bank accounts worth $1.7 billion from a clean energy tycoon accused of ties with the Sicilian mafia, AFP reported. The property confiscated includes 43 wind and solar energy companies and 66 bank accounts.
Authorities accused Vito Nicastri, dubbed the “Lord of the Wind” for his heavy involvement in renewable energy, of laundering money for the Sicilian mafia by taking advantage of state subsidies and weak regulation of the renewable energy sector. Nicastri had “numerous and high-level contacts” in the mafia, Italy’s anti-mafia agency told AFP.
Nicastri’s assets were initially frozen in 2010, and he has been warned not to leave his hometown of Alcamo while the investigation continues.
In its 2013 Serious Organized Crime Threat Assessment (SOCTA), Europol singled out Italian and Sicilian crime groups, and noted that organized crime groups “such as the Cosa Nostra and the ‘Ndrangheta are already involved in alternative energy (wind and solar) and waste management businesses, which they use to launder profits.”
By creating legitimate businesses through which to invest and extract money, the Sicilian mafia is attempting to break away from its reliance on traditional operations and find new ways of laundering money.
The seizure of Nicastri’s fortune is a major blow to the mafia, authorities say. Nicastri has been linked to Matteo Messina Denaro, widely reputed to be the godfather of La Cosa Nostra. The seizure "impacts in a significant way on the economic power of Matteo Messina Denaro, who is considered the lord of that land," Italy’s anti-mafia agency said.
Western sanctions on Iran have led to an increasingly lucrative black market trade in Iranian diesel fuel across the Iran-Pakistan border, according to a recent Reuters report.
Diesel smuggling has a long history in Baluchistan, Pakistan’s southwestern province, and the stranglehold placed on Iran’s exports by the United States and its allies have helped the trade flourish. Sanctions led to a sharp drop in the value of the Iranian rial in September, when it lost 40 percent of its value against the dollar, according to Reuters. The currency devaluation meant that the illicit trade in diesel was even more profitable for Pakistani smugglers. The price for a gallon of diesel is less than for a gallon of mineral water, and smuggled gas sells for less than legally obtained fuel in Pakistan. As a result, smugglers find a thirsty market for their goods.
Some smugglers bring Iranian diesel into Pakistan by foot, carrying soda bottles, while the more enterprising among the traders have opted for pick-up trucks to maximize their returns. The illicit diesel trade has even enticed one-time opium smugglers to change their line of work. "Why smuggle opium when you can earn as much money by smuggling diesel? It's much safer," a former drug trafficker turned diesel smuggler told Reuters.
Reliable estimates on the volume of the trade are impossible to make, but traders told Reuters that upwarover 1.3 million gallons of Iranian diesel is filled into Baluchistani tankers daily. The diesel is then shipped across Pakistan and sold to consumers throughout the energy-starved nation.
Responsibility for law enforcement in Baluchistan falls largely on the paramilitary Frontier Corps. The report points to their complicity in the illegal trade. "The Frontier Corps, coast guards and police provide the smugglers with protection in return for their share," a senior government official in Baluchistan told Reuters.
Officially, the Frontier Corps has denied all claims of involvement in smuggling. Authorities say they lack adequate “forces, proper weapons and equipment to stop the smuggling,” a customs official told Reuters. With sanctions on Iran unlikely to end soon, and the rule of law unlikely to be enforced in Baluchistan, the illegal Iranian diesel trade will thrive.
In the latest of a series ofanti-corruption measures, China has cracked down on improperly attained military license plates, which well-connected drivers display as status symbols and use to flaunt laws, the Washington Post reported.
Stricter controls on the controversial plates will take effect on May 1. The aim is to cut down on the abuse of the plates by officials, and to discourage their distribution as gifts and perks. Military plates will no longer be allowed on luxury vehicles, according to the Washington Post. Military plates on private vehicles have drawn the ire of the everyday Chinese, many of which believe they are a symbol of unearned privilege or the outcome of business deals with the military.
China’s new president, Xi Jinping, embarked on an ambitious program of corruption crackdowns almost immediately after he came to power. The government has banned gaudy feasts and parties for officials, as well as investigating financial irregularities and cracking down on crooked dealings. The new policies have caused a party-wide scramble as worried officials try to separate themselves from shady money. In January 2013, the crackdown was blamed for a massive outflow of capital from China, as officials looked to evade stricter controls through property purchases in the US.
Despite the genuine concern of party officials in China, there are doubts as to the efficacy of China’s anti-corruption program. The Post quoted a Chinese blogger’s response to the new regulations: “It’s no use to only change the plate,” he said. “The person who drives the military vehicles should change their attitude.”
Mexican drug cartels are expanding their presence in the United States far beyond the border states that have traditionally been their home, according to an investigation by the Associated Press.
Instead of using unaffiliated middlemen to transfer and sell drugs in the US interior, inner circle cartel members are now being assigned to run drug distribution in “at least nine non-border states” in the Midwest, South, and Northeast of the country, according to AP.
While the cartel presence is an old problem along the US southern border, suspects with strong cartel links have lately been seen in new regions. Direct cartel involvement has been on the rise in Chicago, Atlanta, rural North Carolina, Indiana and Pennsylvania. That Chicago -- a city more than 1000 miles from the US-Mexico border -- recently named the infamous Sinaloa cartel kingpin public enemy number one is illustrative of the far reach of Mexican drug syndicates.
The chance to increase profits drives this change, according to the AP's investigation. The middlemen who formerly sold drugs on behalf of the cartels became unnecessary, and the cartels sought to exert the same level of control in the rest of the US as they do along the Mexico border, the AP investigation found.
Not everyone is convinced that the threat is as severe as portrayed: empirical evidence to support the claim that cartels are taking over direct control of their interior US operations is lacking, and individuals should be “very cautious about the assumptions [they] make,” an expert on US-Mexico relations at the University of San Diego told AP.
US Drug Enforcement Agency data on cartel presence in US cities has showed a marked increase. Approximately 230 communities reported cartel activity in 2008; that number jumped to over 1,200 in 2011. However, while the numbers may suggest drastic growth, the increase is at least partly due to better reporting practices.
A New York doctor, his office manager, and 46 others were arrested last week after an investigation into drug trafficking worth $10 million, according to a press release by the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Also among those arrested were the ringleaders of two drug trafficking networks in the state of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Hector Castro and his office manager, Patricia Valera, were indicted and arrested in connection with drug trafficking across the states of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. The two are charged separately because Castro and Valera are accused of running simultaneous, but unrelated, drug trafficking schemes out of the same office. Castro is charged with selling 39 illegal prescriptions, while Valera faces 464 charges for the alleged theft of over 150 prescription sheets bearing Castro’s name.
The investigation alleges that pharmacies in New York and New Jersey doled out over 500,000 oxycodone pills based on prescriptions from Castro and Valera’s office between 2009 and 2013. The schemes were originally able to elude suspicion because so many of the prescriptions were being filled outside of New York State; The New York State Department of Health cannot track prescriptions filled out-of-state.
Castro was arrested after an undercover investigation sparked by the overdose death of an individual in possession of a prescription bearing Castro’s name. A lengthy investigation determined that traffickers were visiting Castro’s office and obtaining prescriptions from him. An undercover agent infiltrated a drug trafficking organization receiving prescriptions from Castro and allegedly bought 28 prescriptions from the doctor. According to ICE, the drug traffickers would text Castro the names and dates of birth of the people for which prescriptions were to be made out, tand the doctor obliged.
Valera allegedly did business with the leaders of two rival drug trafficking groups in Pennsylvania. Valera stole blank prescription sheets from Castro, forged prescriptions, and then sold them for around $500 each, according to ICE. As in Castro’s operation, the organized crime groups provided Valera with names birth dates to fill in, and would either pick up the forged prescriptions or would have them delivered. In Valera’s case, long-term provided the information that led to his arrest.
Between the two operations, authorities estimate Castro and Valera sold a combined $10 million in oxycodone prescriptions. ICE did not elaborate on Castro’s use of his illegal cash flow, but suggested that Valera and her husband, who was also involved and arrested in connection with the investigation, used their proceeds for lavish vacations to Cancun, the Dominican Republic, Florida, France and Italy.
A multinational operation arrested 44 members of an organized crime syndicate responsible forcredit card fraud which affected approximately 36,000 individuals across 16 European countries,according to a Europol press release.
The crime group stole credit card information using manipulated point of sale (POS) terminals-- the machines where credit cards are swiped in. Card reading software was implanted intothe POS terminals, and members of the crime group then created counterfeit credit cards withthe stolen information. The thieves then targeted major European shopping malls, according toEuropol.
Police conducted 82 house searches in Romania and the UK, and closed down two illegalworkshops where POS manipulation devices were produced. Counterfeit cards, stolenelectronic data, and cash were also seized during the course of the operation.
OperationPandora-Storm as the action was dubbed involved 20 law enforcement agenciesfrom Europe, North America, and Australia. The investigation was headed by the RomanianCybercrime Unit and a specialized Organized Crime Division of the Prosecutor’s Office.Europol’s European Cybercrime Center contributed analysis and coordination assistance to theinvestigation. The final arrests involved over 400 police officers, a Romanian command center inBucharest, and support from Europol headquarters in The Hague.
In its Serious Organized Crime Assessment (SOCTA) published in March 2013, the EUhighlighted the threat posed by organized crime diversification. Among the threats mentionedin the report was a rise in organized electronic crime, including credit card fraud. The reportestimated that organized crime groups earn $1.9 billion from credit card fraud alone. the low-riskhigh-reward nature of cybercrime contributes to its popularity, the report concluded. The reportalso warned that as mobile payments and the use of near field communication expand, theyprovide “new opportunities for data theft and fraud.”
Troels Oerting, Head of European Cybercrime Center echoed the report’s statements. He praised the success of Operation Pandora-Storm, saying it was an “example of excellent policework and flawless cooperation,” but added that the in the future “cybercrime will become a greatchallenge for the [law enforcement] community.”
Transparency International has joined with European football associations to tackle the issue of match fixing, the organizations said in a joint press release on Wednesday.
The aim of the project, called Staying on Side, is to create educational and preventative programs that target players and officials, and can be used by football leagues throughout Europe. The project will focus on providing educational materials to young players in a workshop setting, Sylvia Schenk, Senior Advisor for Sport at Transparency International told OCCRP. These materials present scenarios involving questionable ethics related to match fixing, and then players discuss and decide on the best course of action as a group.
The Association of European Professional Football Leagues (EPFL) and the German Football League (DFL), TI’s partners in the venture, encompass a large majority of professional football in Europe. Their membership includes 29 leagues, including the English, German, Spanish, French, and Italian domestic leagues.
A February announcement by Europol of a major match-fixing ring with ties to organized crime highlighted the continued threat match fixing poses. That investigation found over 380 match-fixing attempts, including high profile matches in World Cup qualifying and the UEFA Champions League, as well as various domestic league matches throughout Europe. Over 400 players, officials and criminals are suspects in the schemes. Betting profits for the organized crime group exceeded $10 million. At the time, Europol Director Rob Wainwright expressed concern that “illegal profits are made on a scale that threatens the very fabric of the game.”
Schenk echoed Wainwright’s concerns, saying that when it comes to match fixing, “quite often organized crime is involved.” The crime can be linked to blackmailing, among other illicit activities, Schenk said.
Staying on Side is based on a plan presented by TI to the European Union earlier in 2012 after calls by the European Commission for innovations in the fight against match fixing. The plan has roots in a similar joint venture in Germany between Transparency Germany and the domestic league. In that program, players were interested, coaches learned a lot, and the youth program officals welcomed Transparency’s initiatives, Schenk said.
The EPFL has also taken steps to tackle match fixing. In October of 2010 it enacted a code of conduct regarding match fixing, and called on members to “adopt appropriate legislation to protect the integrity of football.” The integrity of the game is a central aspect of Staying on Side’s message to the youth players it targets as well. “We tell them the game is about fair play and the uncertainty of the result,” Schenk said. “Match fixing destroys football.”
Croatian National Police dismantled a counterfeit currency print shop, seized over $US230,000 worth of counterfeit Euro notes, and arrested 18 members of an organized crime group on Tuesday, according to a press release by Europol.
The arrests in Zagreb took a dangerous turn when a suspect threatened to use a grenade; police successfully disarmed the man before the weapon detonated. No police officers were injured. Over 150 police officers were involved in five Croatian cities, with the actual print shop located in Bjelovar, a city 40 miles east of the Croatian capital.
Police seized 3,600 counterfeit 50 Euro bills and counterfeit note production equipment. Sixty-three uncut pages of 50 British pound notes were also seized. The raids apprehended every member of the organized crime group “from the top down,” according to Europol. The counterfeit currency printed by the crime group circulated in multiple EU member states, and was detected in Austria, Italy and Slovenia.
In December 2012, the agency helped dismantle a similar print shop in Peru. Counterfeit notes were 4.4 million euros and 4.4 million dollars were seized. That operation was conducted by Peruvian police, Europol and the US Secret Service. In February, Europol aided in a similar operation in Portugal, where $38,000 worth of counterfeit Euro bills were recovered and five were arrested. Printers, stamping dies, holograms, and inks used for counterfeiting were also confiscated.
Citigroup became the latest in a series of major banks to be reprimanded for failing to adhere to US banking legislation. The US Federal Reserve censured the firm for weak money laundering controls and failure to comply with US regulations. The Reserve cited subpar compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act, a key US law governing reporting of suspicious transfers.
Banks and other financial institutions are required under US law to report any transaction over $10,000. They also must monitor and inform authorities of suspicious activity by individuals attempting to avoid detection. The Federal Reserve said that Citigroup “lacked effective systems of governance and internal controls”, noting that Citigroup had failed to “adequately oversee” its banks’ anti-money laundering (AML) programs.
US law states that the actions of a financial institution that conducts business in the US, as well as those of its foreign and domestic subsidiaries, are subject to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and US money-laundering legislation. For a transnational giant like Citigroup, this means effectively overseeing every bank and financial institution it operates globally.
Foreign operations of banks have come under increased scrutiny in the US in the past year, and Citigroup has good reason to adhere to the Federal Reserve’s demands: failure to do so could cost the firm billions. In January, JP Morgan Chase was cited for its weak money laundering protections. HSBC paid $1.9 billion in December 2012 after the Justice Department determined the bank had laundered over $850 for Mexican and Colombian drug cartels.
Citigroup has two months to submit a comprehensive plan to improve oversight of its operations, and three months to submit a company-wide BSA/AML compliance program. The report will include recommendations on improving the structure and operation of its compliance program. Citigroup must submit a final plan, based on the BSA/AML Report and its recommendations, within four months.
Seven men, including six Croatians and one Serbian citizen, were charged in connection with a forgery scheme which produced passports for mobsters connected to Balkan organized crime, including the infamous Zemun clan, according to a press release by Croatia’s Bureau for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime (USKOK). The accused are charged with conspiracy to commit criminal acts, abuse of office, forgery and providing incentives for misconduct in office. Those indicted include Croatian civil servants responsible for the issuance of passports and monitoring of civilian identity databases, as well as police officers.
The successful forgeries required an understanding of the weaknesses and loopholes in passport distribution; infiltration of key civil servant positions was central to the group’s ability to avoid detection for years. The criminals had access to a government database of citizens’ personal data, and used this database to identify individuals in Croatia who did not have passports. These identities were then stolen.
A power-of-attorney form was forged so that sensitive documents, including birth certificates, citizenship documents and proof-of-residency papers could be accessed. These documents would be used to forge resident ID cards in either Bosnia or Serbia using the victims’ names, but the clients’ photos. These forged ID cards would be taken to Croatian consulates in Bosnia and Serbia, where accomplices working at the consulates would approve requests for new passports. The clients would walk away with functional passports bearing their photo, but someone else’s information.
The forged passports cost over $12,000 apiece; clients paid half up front and half upon completion. The scheme, which authorities say was in effect at least between 2006 and 2010, made the forgers over $870,000.