One hundred and three people allegedly tied to a smuggling network were arrested in 10 European countries on Tuesday, according to a Europol press release. Arrests took place in Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Slovak Republic, Turkey, and the Kosovo region. Switzerland and Austria officials were also involved in the operation.
Those arrested are suspected of illegally trafficking migrants, mainly from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey, into and throughout the European Union. Migrants were transported in “inhuman and dangerous conditions,” including hidden compartments in bus floors, and in freight trains. The traffickers also utilized false travel documents and marriages of convenience as a means to subvert law enforcement, according to Europol.
The anti-trafficking operation was one of the largest of its kind; over 1,200 police officers, coordinated by Europol, were involved in the action. Police seized over 176,500 Euros in cash during the 117 searches conducted during the operation.
Tuesday’s operation is a result of Project FIMATHU, a September 2011 initiative by Austria and Hungary to stem illegal immigration into their countries. The project, aimed at dismantling organized illegal immigration networks, has since grown to include 10 new members, Europol said.
Europol and local police throughout Europe arrested 103 people Tuesday who were suspected of being part of a people-smuggling network. 10 European countries and EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo) were involved in the common action supported and coordinated by Europol.
Kamran Faisal, an investigator with the National Accountability Bureau of Pakistan (NAB) was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his government hostel on January 18th, according to the BBC. Faisal’s death has been ruled a suicide following an initial investigation by Pakistan police, but despite the ruling, influential political figures including Prime Minister hopeful Imran Khan have joined Faisal’s family in questioning the initial ruling, the BBC reported.
Faisal was serving as an assistant investigator in an NAB probe into Rental Power Projects (RPP) between 2006 and 2008, according to Dawn news. The probe’s targets include current Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, who was Minister for Water and Power at the time the disputed contracts were concluded. RPPs are plants that are installed quickly to meet short-term electricity needs..
Faisal’s death came three days after the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of 16 people, including the Prime Minister, in relation to the RPP scandal. None of those arrests have been made.
The Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered its own investigation into Faisal’s death on January 23rd, citing fears that “a free, fair and honest investigation” by the government would not be possible given the influence of senior political figures, according to the BBC.
The Supreme Court refused to comment, noting the investigation is ongoing.
Pakistani police have claimed that Faisal was mentally ill and suffering from a laundry list of afflictions that included schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, according to Geo News. Faisal’s family has vehemently denied claims of mental illness and said that Faisal was killed for his role in the investigation, claiming that his body bore “marks of torture,” the BBC reported.
On Tuesday, a Law Minister called for the exhumation of Faisal’s body, claiming that incomplete samples had been used in forensic testing and that the branches of the federal government had made conducting the investigation difficult, according to Geo News.
Zambia’s Information Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) announced a plan Monday to ban the use of counterfeit mobile phones.
The plan will require cell phone users to register their International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) and SIM card details with their service provider. Failure to register will result in “SIM deactivation” and lockout from the national telecommunications networks, according to the news alert on ZICTA’s website. The registration drive is to begin immediately, with a cutoff date to be “announced in due course.”
An IMEI is a unique international coding system given to each cell phone. IMEI’s, in conjunction with SIM card details, facilitate the identification of counterfeit handsets -- if the proper registry is in place.
Zambia’s move to disconnect counterfeit mobile phones using a registration program follows similar moves by other African nations, including Uganda and Kenya.
A program run by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) saw service providers disconnect on January 8 more than 2.4 million phones belonging to owners who failed to heed a December 31 government deadline for registration of SIM card data. Subscribers who have had their phones suspended have 90 days to register their SIM details with service providers, or risk the reallocation of their number to a new subscriber. All new subscribers will register details upon purchase of a line.
Uganda has given users until January 31 to register their devices or face a denial of service. The plan, spearheaded by the Uganda Communications Commission, gives mobile phone users in Uganda a six-month grace period -- until the end of July -- to register before losing their numbers completely.
OCCRP reporter Khadija Ismayilova being arrested at a protest in Baku
OCCRP investigative journalist Khadija Ismayilova was detained today while protesting in Azerbaijan's capital of Baku. Among hundreds of protesters, Ismayilova was one of some 40 arrested, who also included bloggers Emin Milli and Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, as well as human rights defender Malahat Nasibova.
Slovenia’s Prime Minister Janez Janša faces heavy pressure to resign after the country’s Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (CPC) accused him of failing to declare over US$ 266,000 in private assets.
In response to the report’s findings and Janša’s refusal to resign, Civic List, a junior partner in Slovenia’s ruling coalition, walked out of the government on Wednesday, leaving Janša and his party, the SDS, atop a minority government. Civic List party chief Gregor Virant told reporters that the move was “the first step in resolving the crisis” precipitated by the corruption watchdog’s findings, Al Jazeera reported Wednesday.
The government’s two Civic List ministers resigned from the government on Thursday, the day after their party’s walkout, according to a Civic List spokesperson. Parliament speaker Gregor Virant has also resigned from his position, and his resignation will be accepted on Tuesday, Civic List said.
The Prime Minister must “resign or call for a vote of confidence to quickly resolve what is shaping up to become a serious political crisis with dire economic consequences,” Civic List told OCCRP on Thursday.
Janša denies the CPC’s allegations, and made it clear he “has no intentions” of stepping down, according to Civic List.
The report by the CPC also implicated Zoran Janković, the main opposition leader and mayor of Ljubljana. Janković allegedly failed to declare the origins of over $3 million of his assets.
The corruption scandal has added fuel to protests over Slovenia’s austerity measures, which cut public sector salaries twice in the past two years. Close to 100,000 public sector employees went on strike on Wednesday over proposed salary reductions, Al Jazeera reported; those strikes closed schools and universities and left hospitals operating at reduced capacity.
The Eurozone crisis has hit hard in Slovenia, where GDP fell by 0.17% and GDP per capita by 0.34% in 2011, leading to a loss of over $2.6 billion, according to World Bank estimates.
The Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland highlighted Slovenia’s precarious situation during a speech to the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly on Tuesday, in which he warned that the Slovenian government “is at risk of collapse following the publication of the Anti-Corruption Commission's report.”
The Stockholm District Court decided Tuesday to freeze an additional $277 million in assets belonging to Uzbek associates of the embattled Swedish telecom TeliaSonera, which is fighting bribery charges in Sweden and a money laundering investigation in Switzerland.
The Uzbek suspects are representatives of Takilant Ltd, TeliaSonera’s local partner in Uzbekistan, which took a payment of $320 million in 2007 in return for issuing TeliaSonera the 3G license it would need to operate in Uzbekistan.
The District Court’s decision comes after the Court of Appeals ruled January 16 that although the Uzbek defendants never set foot in Sweden, their electronic correspondence with Swedish business partners gave the Swedish court jurisdiction over their crimes. The amount of money frozen Tuesday is unprecedented in Swedish history, according to the Swedish News Agency (TT).
Swedish News noted that Takilant Ltd retains a board position and a stake, worth about $76 million, in the Netherlands holding company that runs TeliaSonera’s Uzbek subsidiary, and that under its 2007 agreement with TeliaSonera, Takilant has the right to sell that stake back to TeliaSonera before February 15 of this year. The prosecution will likely aim to freeze that money in the next steps of their investigation, Swedish News reported.
Chinese organized crime is booming in Europe, due to a growing ability to meld with existing criminal groups, Asia Times Online reported.
In December, Italian police shut down a Chinese-Italian organized crime network in Venice that had bought large parcels of real estate using proceeds from human trafficking and prostitution rings, according to Asia Times Online.
Last October, Spanish police arrested over 80 people connected to Chinese organized crime and charged them with money laundering, sex trafficking and extortion. The group had allegedly laundered $200 million annually over the course of four to five years, according to El País. Law enforcement in seven countries carried out arrests in coordination with the Spanish operation.
The suspects in Spain were accused of a simple but effective process of tax evasion, El País reported, which involved selling wholesale merchandise in order to finance illegal lending operations, as well as using real estate investments to launder money.
The suspected mastermind of the operation is a Chinese immigrant who owns an art gallery in Madrid.
In its annual Organized Crime Threat Assessment for 2011, Europol highlighted the growing threat of Chinese organized crime, noting that it had linked Chinese criminals in the Netherlands to the supply of synthetic drugs. The report also cited Chinese-European criminal groups as major players in the trafficking of human beings, the sex trade, the counterfeiting of travel documents, and coercive labor rings. Europol went so far as to label Chinese groups as the “most threatening to society as a whole” along with Roma and Nigerian organized crime.
The influx of prime real estate onto the Chinese market has very little to do with supply and demand and everything to do with the harsh stance Beijing’s new leadership is taking against corruption. Frightened by the government’s focus on rooting out corruption within the party, officials have been rushing to sell homes linked to crooked dealings, the Telegraph reported.
The Telegraph cited a report by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CDIC), China’s anti-corruption body, which points to a rapid growth in luxury home sales. According to the report, officials sold nearly 10,000 luxury homes last year in Guangzhou and Shanghai alone.
Chinese academics have raised doubts about the accuracy of some of the report’s findings. The claim that $1 trillion had been smuggled out of the country in 2012 is seen as an exaggeration; a professor at Peking University told the Telegraph a number close to 100 billion pounds ($US158 billion) was more accurate.
As fears rise in China over increased government interest in officials’ finances, there has been a sharp increase in the search for property abroad as a means to hide capital -- and escape -- if necessary. The National Association of Realtors in the United States estimates sales of more than $US9 billion worth of property to Chinese investors. Companies which help Chinese nationals find property abroad are seeing an increase in demand for property in the tax haven Cayman Islands.
Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party, has made stamping out corruption a main focus of his early tenure. The BBC reported on Jinping’s transitional speech to the Communist Party in November, in which he warned that corruption could “kill the party and ruin the country.”
Jinping promised a policy of “no leniency” for party officials on Tuesday, according to Asia One News. "No exception will be made when it comes to party disciplines and law," Xi said. "Cases will be investigated completely and no leniency will be meted out no matter who is involved."
In a sharp reversal of an established trend, undocumented immigrants in the United Kingdom are now paying human trafficking gangs to smuggle them out of their adopted countries, the BBC’s Panorama reported in a new investigative documentary, “Immigration Undercover.”
Underground networks charge up to $2,300 to migrants looking for a ride in trucks bound for mainland Europe, the BBC reported, adding that one group claimed to make three such trips per week.
“You might be wondering why these people don’t hand themselves into the authorities and volunteer for repatriation,” said BBC reporter Paul Kenyon, who went undercover for the documentary. “Well, they spent an awful amount of time and money getting to Europe in the first place. They might not want to go all the way back home; they might want to have a crack at somewhere like Spain or France, see if there’s work there.”
Some immigrants are still desperate to stay in the UK. During its investigation, BBC reporters also found groups running prostitution rings that employed young women with expired visas.