A recent UNODC report on opium production in Afghanistan has revealed that government led efforts to eliminate opium poppy cultivation increased eradication by 154 percent from 2011-2012, but that net cultivation increased anyway.
Nearly 10,000 hectares (ha) of poppy were eradicated in 2012 compared to just under 4,000 ha in 2011. Total cultivation (after eradication) increased to an estimated 154,000 ha, up from 131,000 last year.
The report concluded that:
- Market forces are greater predictors of opium production than government or religious sanctions. Cultivation of the poppy plant is banned by the Afghani government and is also against Islam. It is nonetheless a major source of income for Afghani farmers.
- Those surveyed by the UNODC indicated that high price of opium was the top reason for growing poppy. Secondary reasons were also fueled by economic conditions: the potential for high income off little land, a desire to provide for one’s family, the provision of basic food and shelter.
- Though total poppy cultivation was up – primarily in response to high prices in 2011 – expected opium production is significantly down. Once again, this has little to do with government action. A combination of disease among the poppy plant and adverse weather conditions in areas of heavy cultivation were to blame.
- Increased violence was linked to increased eradication efforts. Government teams were attacked by farmers and resistance groups 117 times in 2012. Those “security incidents” resulted in 102 deaths, as compared to 20 deaths from 48 total incidents in 2011.
After two autopsies, the cause of death of Russian whistleblower Alexander Perepilichny remains unclear. The 44-year-old tax official was found dead near his home south of London on November 10 and had been in good health at the time. Perepilichny was assisting Swiss banks in an investigation of the massive Russian tax fraud which another whistleblower, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered in 2008. Magnitsky died in a Russian prison after he was tortured and denied healthcare.
Yesterday, specialist detectives in Britain’s Major Crimes Unit took over the case from local police, a move which local media say suggests the death may have been a murder. Police have ordered toxicology tests on the body, but a local police spokesman told reporters that the toxology report could take a “number of weeks” to be processed. Another spokeswoman suggested it might take months.
The Guardian and others have reported that Perepilichny may have been poisoned in a manner similar to that of former spy Alexander Litvinenko, who died in London in 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210, a substance which is difficult for doctors to identify.
Russian officials have downplayed the link between Perepilichny and the Magnitsky case. It’s a particularly sensitive subject in the wake of the Magnitsky Act, passed by US House of Representatives last month. The act would allow the US to apply targeted sanctions against persons involved in the Magnitsky case or other human rights abuses.
The Russian embassy in London stated, “We cannot see any connection between the death of Mr. Alexander Perepilichny, the causes of which are yet to be established, and the so called 'Magnitsky case"
Russian officials have denied any state officials were involved in the Magnitsky theft and continue to pursue crimes against Magnitsky even though he is dead. They have threatened the US with retaliatory legislation if it pursues plans to apply sanctions.
Last month, OCCRP identified two persons who received transfers from accounts where the Magnitsky money had been kept, including the son of a prominent businessman and the husband of a tax official allegedly involved in the theft.
Israeli Police raided an alleged crime syndicate from the Taibeh area on Monday, arresting 17 people suspected of being senior operatives in the Abdel Khader organization and seizing assets worth millions of dollars, including houses, luxury cars, bank accounts and even horses, Haaretz reports.
The Taibeh municipality has become a prominent source of income for the Abdel Khader gang, which has expanded its operations over the past two years, police told reporters. The Abdel Khader gang achieved notoriety for its turf war with the rival Hariri crime ring in Tel Aviv, a conflict which has claimed dozens of lives. Police told Israeli media, though, that the organization has been seeking to expand into the center of the country and has forged alliances with several Jewish crime rings.
Police indicated that the Abdel Khader group is involved in almost every branch of organized crime: murder, protection rackets, tax crimes, illegal weapons and money laundering.
Monday's raid followed a two-year undercover investigation conducted jointly by police, the Israel Tax Authority and other government ministries.
During the probe, investigators found evidence that the Abdel Khader ring had taken over a great deal of city business in the Taibeh municipality, garnering major contracts that no one dared oppose. Among other business ventures, according to police, the syndicate apparently controlled the city's trash collection.
Police detained 16 people in Romania Wednesday and charged seven of them in an international investigation into credit card theft in Australia.
The Australian Federal Police (AFP)said their scam was the biggest credit card data theft Australia had seen. The Romanian syndicate accessed 500,000 Australian credit cards by hacking into the computers of small retailers. It then used data from around 30,000 of those cards to create new, fake credit cards and charged around US $31 million to them.
“This is the largest data breach investigation ever undertaken by Australian law enforcement,” said AFP Cyber Crime Manager Glen McEwan Thursday.
Small businesses (100 employees or fewer) have increasingly become the target of hackers, according to experts such as Computing Professor Alan Woodward, who wrote about the trend this month for the BBC. These businesses are targeted because they lack the budget and inclination for robust cyber security, Woodward said.
The Romanian theft ring investigation was a joint effort between Australian and Romanian authorities, but involved the cooperation of 14 countries over the past 17 months.
According to reports in Australia, the international wrestling champion Gheorghe "The Carpathian Bear" Ignat, was among those held but later released.
Australian financial institutions have reimbursed all financial losses of Australian cardholders.
Romanian law enforcement authorities have dismantled a criminal group that stole credit card data from foreign companies. The cybercrime operation resulted in fraudulent transactions totaling $25 million, the IDG news service reports.
Officers from the country's organized crime police, working with prosecutors from the Romanian Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism (DIICOT), executed 36 search warrants on Tuesday at residential addresses across Romania and arrested 16 individuals suspected of being members of the credit card fraud ring.
According to a press release on the DIICOT website, the group's members hacked into computer systems belonging to foreign companies that operate gas stations and grocery stores and installed computer applications designed to intercept credit card transaction data.
The applications were configured to store the captured data locally for later retrieval, upload it automatically to external servers or send it to email addresses controlled by the gang's members, the agency said. The stolen credit card information was then sold or used to create counterfeit cards.
For example, between December 2011 and October 2012 members of the group sold 68,000 credit cards at $4 each through an online shop, making a profit of $270,000, according to DIICOT.
The group opened several IT services companies in Romania and used them for the specific purpose of building and maintaining a computer infrastructure that would support its criminal operation, a DIICOT spokeswoman said Tuesday.
According to IDG news, the spokeswoman confirmed that the companies targeted by the fraud ring are not from Romania, but declined to name them or reveal in which countries they operate because the investigation is ongoing.
The criminal operation resulted in fraudulent transactions totaling more than $25 million and involved more than 500,000 credit cards, the agency said Tuesday.
A Ljubljana court has convicted four Slovenians for drug trafficking and acquitted 13 others, including Dragan Tosic, the alleged ringleader of what police had called a Balkan crime ring, local media reports.
The acquittals came two weeks after the court accepted a request from defense attorneys to exclude recordings they said were obtained illegally by Serbian and Slovenian police. According to the judge, the remaining evidence, related to alleged drug trafficking in Italy and Uruguay, was not sufficient for a sentence for Tosic and the others.
The remaining defendants, who were detained in Italy, have been sentenced to between four and 10 years in prison on charges of drug production and trafficking. Police and media consider all four of the convicted to be low level “foot soldiers.”
Slovenian police arrested all 17 in an operation launched in 2010. The men were accused of belonging to a gang led by Serbian national Darko Saric, an alleged drug kingpin who has been charged with trying to smuggle 2.8 tons of cocaine from South America to Europe but remains at large.
Dragan Tosic is thought to be the head of Saric's Slovenian crime branch and is the owner of two well-known Ljubljana coffee shops.
The trial, which concluded Tuesday after 18 months, had been dubbed the "Balkan Warrior" case.
A Croatia court has sentenced former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader to 10 years in prison.
Sanader, who led Croatia from 2003 until an abrupt resignation in 2009, fled the country shortly before several indictments for corruption were issued and was extradited from Austria in 2011. The AP reports that he is the highest-ranking government official ever to be tried for corruption in Croatia.
Judges found Sanader guilty of accepting a €10 million ($13 million) bribe from Hungarian oil company MOL in return for securing it controlling rights in Croatia's state oil company INA, and receiving €545,000 ($695,000) in kickbacks from Hypo Alpe Adria Group that gave the Austrian bank a leading position in the Croatian market in 1995. Prosecutors characterized that crime as “war profiteering.”
Sanader also stands accused of creating slush funds for his political party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), by skimming profits from state companies and manipulating public funds. Sanader has denied any wrongdoing, saying that the case against him has been politically motivated.
Croatia expects to join the EU in July of 2013 and has pledged to root our graft before membership is finalized.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act on Friday, a bill which would create targeted sanctions for the officials involved in the case of Sergei Magnitsky and other human rights abuses in Russia.
The Magnitsky language was included in a larger piece of legislation which gives Russia and Moldova permanent normal trade relations (PNTR) status. It is the portion of the bill which appears to have the most bi-partisan support.
Representative Sandy Levin (D-Mich), told reporters that the Magnitsky legislation was included to recognize “that when you talk about trade, you have to look at a fuller picture.”
Chris Smith (R-NJ), said the bill sent a strong message of U.S. support for human rights standards around the world. “Murderers and torturers are not welcome in this country,” Smith stated.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla) said she voted for the bill expressly because of the Magnitsky language, even though she worries that restoring trade relations with Russia seems too generous when Russia is thwarting U.S. interests in other areas and pursuing policies in Iran that the U.S. opposes.
In Russia, however, the focus is on the Magnitsky sanctions. Russian Foreign Ministry envoy Konstantin Dolgov told Radio Free Europe that the bill “cannot be called anything other than unfriendly and provocative,” and that the Russian response would be “adequately firm.”
Under the act, sanctions would ban visas and freeze assets of not only those who were involved in the detention and death of Magnitsky and those who profited in the criminal conspiracy he uncovered, but also those who are responsible for “extrajudicial killings” and violations against whistle blowers and political opponents.
Human rights activists hope that it will finally lead to a more serious investigation of the Magnitsky scandal. Russian activist Lev Pononmaryev told the Interfax news agency, "sooner or later, they will have to resolve this problem in Russia. Whether this issue will be addressed immediately after the USA passes the law, I do not know. Nevertheless, the adoption of the law in the USA will be a step in the right direction."
To become a law, the bill has to be approved by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.
Some analysts in Russia predict that this will be harmful for relations between Moscow and Washington. One reporter opined that the act itself – and in particular, the paragraph which gives the Secretary of State license to make alterations to sanctions, based on U.S. interests – is largely superfluous, given that a blacklist of persons allegedly associated with Magnitsky’s death was created to prevent them from getting visas 18 months ago.
“The general mood in the USA is in the vein of the Cold War,” Sergei Mikheyev, the Director of the Centre of Political Situations, told the Voice of Russia.
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has insisted the Magnitsky affair is an internal problem, being dealt with at the highest levels. But the American legislation points out that no officials have been brought to trial. The US bill reads:
“The systematic abuse of Sergei Magnitsky, including his repressive arrest and torture in custody by officers of the Ministry of the Interior that Mr. Magnitsky had implicated in the embezzlement of funds from the Russian Treasury and the misappropriation of 3 companies from his client, reflects how deeply the protection of human rights is affected by corruption.”
OCCRP published the names of two persons who benefited from the Magnitsky money. OCCRP showed through documents of bank transfers that Denis Katysv, the son of a prominent Russian businessman and Vladlen Stepanov, the husband of a Russian tax official, received some of the funds.
A three-year international probe, based in the Netherlands, will investigate the illegal trafficking of human organs, researchers announced on Thursday.
The investigation, led by the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, will focus on overall trends and players rather than on "hard numbers," said the Center's Frederike Ambagtshee Thursday. "What we want to do is research the supply and demand and the involvement of organized crime — who is facilitating these transplants and how?" Ambagsshee told the Associated Press in a phone interview.
There are three common ways in which organ traffickers cheat victime, according to the UN's Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking. Traffickers may force victims into giving up organs, victims may willingly sell organs but are ultimately not paid or underpaid and organs are removed without permission from legitimate medical patients being treated for unrelated ailments.
One recent known case involved several arrests made in May in Israel, where suspects were charged with a series of illegal transplants made in Kosovo in 2008. Anoher high-profile case involved prisoners killed by the Kosovo Liberation Army after the war against Serb forces, and was one subject of recent trials by the Serbian War Crimes Prosecution.
Though statistics on this phenomenon are largely unknown, anecdotal evidence suggests that the trade has become more far-reaching, and more profitable. "Because of the scarcity of organs, they become more valuable and therefore more lucrative to trade," Ambagtsheer told the Associated Press. And the Erasmus Center's website notes that "there is increasing evidence of organ tourism, where patients travel abroad for the transplant of an organ that could have been purchased."
To complete this investigation, the Erasmus center will team up with Europol, the United Nations, the European Society for Organ Transplantion, and organizations in Romania, Sweden, Bulgaria and Spain.
The head of Mexico's organized crime unit stepped down on Thursday, just weeks after announcing that members of his team had been charged with having links to the nation's most powerful drug cartel, Reuters reported.
A spokesman said that Jose Cuitlahuac Salinas resigned for "personal reasons," and that the resignation would take immediate effect. Salinas will be replaced by Rodrigo Archundia Barrientos, an expert on kidnappings at the organized crime unit.
On October 17, Salinas said the Mexican government had charged seven officials, including three members of his unit, with passing information to the Sinaloa cartel, dubbed by the United States Intelligence Community the “most powerful drug-trafficking organization in the world.”
Salinas himself was not being investigated, the spokesman at the attorney general's office said.
Mexico's powerful drug cartels are suspected of spending millions of dollars a year to corrupt officials, but charges are not common and convictions are extremely rare, Reuters reported. Earlier this month, Mexico charged 14 federal police officers with the attempted murder of two CIA operatives in early October. The daylight attack was suspected to have been ordered by a drug cartel.
President Felipe Calderon leaves office at the end of the month, and though putting a stop to gang violence and drug activity was a cornerstone of his campaign, gang-related violence increased by more than 700 percent during his six-year presidency. More than 60,000 people have been killed.