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Europol and the People’s Republic of China join forces to fight transnational crime

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The Vice Minister of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China, Meng Hongwei, and Europol’s Director, Rob Wainwright, signed today a strategic cooperation agreement to expand cooperation to combat cross-border criminal activities. The agreement allows for the exchange of general strategic intelligence as well as strategic and technical information and operational information with the exception of personal data. It will enable both partners to work on key areas such as migrant smuggling, cybercrime, drug trafficking, asset recovery, money laundering, organised property crime and trafficking in human beings.

Counter Terrorism Units of the Spanish National Police stop illicit trafficking of firearms

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January 2017, the Counter Terrorism Units of the Spanish National Police in Madrid, Bilbao, Valencia and Gerona, with the collaboration of Europol, have carried out an operation within the framework of an investigation against the illicit trafficking of firearms.

During the course of this action, 5 individuals have been arrested, 6 house searches have been conducted in three Spanish provinces of Bilbao, Cantabria and Gerona and more than 10 000 firearms have been seized, alongside EUR 80 000 in cash.

This organised crime group used a sport shop as a distribution centre which in reality sold firearms, parts and components and ammunition. They acquired a significant amount of the firearms in auctions and from other legal entities.

The crime group sold deactivated firearms which did not comply with the existing deactivation standards and life firing firearms in Spain and other European countries. A sizeable amount of these firearms were assault rifles and hand guns, but there were also other weapons such as anti-aerial machine guns. The suspects also sold essential parts and components with the aim of reactivating deactivated firearms. During the course of this action, an illegal workshop was also dismantled which was used to repair and reactive firearms. The suspects were found in possession of stamps and other items used to forge certificates of reactivation.

Information gathered during the operation will now be analysed by Europol in order to identify potential links with other criminal or terrorist activity across Europe and beyond.

Europol, arrest of Georgian Organised Crime Group

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Europol successfully supports Spanish, French and Georgian Authorities

The Spanish National Police supported by Europol and by the French and Georgian authorities has arrested 61 members of a Georgian organised crime group specialised in burglaries. Overall, 26 house searches have been carried out and EUR 33 000, 8 vehicles, 7 100 tobacco packets and many stolen pieces of jewellery have been seized.

The 61 arrested individuals formed 9 different criminals cells, which were all located in Madrid. All the cells had links to different Spanish provinces such as Malaga, Seville, Sabadell, Barcelona and Bilbao. Among the detained persons are also 5 zedamxedveli (Georgian word for a supervisor). These supervisors took over key roles in the organized crime group. The zedamxedveli were in charge of providing logistical support, monitoring the criminal cells and keeping the leaders of the criminal organisation updated. Some of the arrested zedamxedveli had legal jobs in Spain, such as staff in a construction company in Seville, or a private security guard in Madrid.

In doing so they tried to hide the profits illegally obtained and to avoid suspicions. This operation is considered as the second phase of Operation AIKON, which was already conducted by the Spanish National Police and supported by Europol. In the first phase 50 people, all members of Georgian organised crime, were detained. Some of them have been arrested again in the second phase of AIKON. The main target of the operation and leader of the organized crime gang has a vast criminal background (kidnapping, assassination, etc.) and headed the criminal group from Italy, supported by the 5 supervisors in Spain.

Europol has supported the investigations from the early phases by facilitating the exchange of information. During the action day, one Europol expert was deployed to Spain, equipped with a mobile office. This allowed for real–time exchange of information and cross-checks of the data gathered in the course of the action against Europol’s databases.

Online Sexual Extortion: Europol assists Italian National Police

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Europol has successfully supported the Italian and Norwegian national police in preventing the sexual extortion of a young girl. The girl from Norway was sexually exploited through an online messaging platform leading to her producing sexually explicit material for an Italian male.

Posing as someone who was well known to the victim through a fake profile created by him, the male threatened the girl into producing the material and sending it to him. Once she had done so, he made more demands for images and videos threatening to publish online what she had already sent if she did not send more. Unknown to him, the case was already with the Norwegian police and being reported by them to their colleagues in Italy through Europol.

The alert quickly reached Italy’s Servizio Polizia Postale e delle Comunicazioni and through very efficient collaboration among the Norwegian and Italian police, and Europol the suspect was quickly identified.

The Centro Nazionale per il Contrasto alla Pedopornografia Online (C.N.C.P.O.) of the Servizio Polizia Postale e delle Comunicazioni secured the cooperation of local detectives to continue the investigation. The police officers, coordinated by the local prosecutor’s office, reached the home of the suspect and found him engaged in chats on mobile devices. The devices were seized and will be examined in relation to the reported crimes. The investigation of the suspect is ongoing.

Source : EUROPOL

Hawala money laundering ring dismantled by Europol

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On 21 November 2016, a joint investigation team (JIT) consisting of investigators and judicial authorities from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, took action against a money laundering ring whose members were active in Western Europe and Morocco.

The action day, supported on-the-spot by Europol experts, was conducted by over 450 police officers simultaneously in France (Gendarmerie Nationale), Belgium (Police Judiciaire Fédérale) and the Netherlands (Nationale Politie) and resulted in the arrest of 36 suspects.

The JIT members had been investigating since 2015 into the activities of this complex structure involved in laundering to Morocco the proceeds from drugs trafficking in Europe, with a total amount of funds already laundered estimated at over EUR 300 million.

The criminals’ modus operandi involved the use of cash couriers traveling by car who would pick up the proceeds from drug trafficking throughout Western Europe (collection rate of over EUR 1 million per month) and transport them to Belgium and the Netherlands. The cash was there laundered to Morocco via the Middle East using unregulated financial channels (the Hawala system), thus leaving no tell-tale trail evidence for law enforcement investigators.

Eurojust was requested to facilitate the transmission and execution of Letters of Request, and to assist a joint investigation team between France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Europol has been supporting this operation since July 2015 by providing analytical and operational support (cross-matches, operational analysis and commercial intelligence reports) to all involved Member States. Mobile offices were deployed to Paris and Brussels on the action day to assist the national authorities. Over EUR 5.5 million in cash have been seized, alongside EUR 800 000 worth of gold, two semi-automatic weapons and ammunition.

Europol coordinates EU-wide hit on trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation

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An impressive number of 28 countries teamed up with Europol to deliver a major blow to organised crime groups involved in trafficking in human beings across the European Union and beyond. During the operational activities of the EU-wide Joint Action Day (JAD) named Ciconia Alba, one part of the intelligence-led police actions and controls focussed explicitly on sexual exploitation and child trafficking.

During the span of the action week co-ordinated by Europol and under the lead of Austria, 11 161 locations (red-light district areas, brothels, private flats, massage parlours, airports and reception centres) were controlled, alongside 43 405 persons were checked, and  549 victims/potential victims1 identified. In addition, police controls checked 5 126 vehicles and  35 848 ID documents. Data gathered during the operations led to the launch of 102 new investigations in order to identify further suspects and victims linked to human trafficking cases across the EU. The JAD took place between 10 and 16 October.

Europol Director Rob Wainwright said: “Trafficking in human beings is a global problem and a thriving criminal industry that affects the lives of millions of children, women and men around the world who are trapped in a type of modern day slavery. The outstanding collaboration between 28 countries during the Joint Action Day delivered major results. By working together, leveraging our power and increasing the operational priority given to investigating human trafficking, the police community and civil society can succeed in eradicating modern slavery.”

The nationality of the victims of human trafficking identified, and the suspects arrested during the JAD Ciconia Alba, confirm the prominence of trafficking network originating from Nigeria, Asia and Eastern-Europe as being the most active in the EU. Fourteen underage victims were reported.

Overall fifty-two countries and four international organisations were involved in the JAD Ciconia Alba, and joined Europol in its fight to disrupt the most dangerous criminal networks currently active. During the JAD investigators put an emphasis on cases related to facilitated illegal immigration, trafficking in human beings, drug trafficking (cocaine, heroin and synthetic drugs) and cybercrime (payment card fraud – Global Airport Action Day).

Law enforcement officers in the field were supported 24/7 from an operational coordination centre located at Europol’s headquarters in The Hague. Here, Europol officers, liaison officers and national experts from the participating countries, working with specialists from other international partners, offered fast and smooth information exchange using Europol’s secure channels, and constantly analysed intelligence gathered.

In the crime area of trafficking in human beings, in addition to the national delegates present at Europol’s operation coordination centre, an exchange of law enforcement officers from the countries of origin and the countries of destination of the trafficked human beings was paramount for the success of the operation.

Europol's Cybercrime center against Child sexual abuse

Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) has supported Italian law enforcement authorities to shut down a hidden service for distributing child sexual abuse material. The house of the Italian administrator has been searched and 14 000 bitcoin wallets have been seized.

Operation Babylon began two years ago when the Italian Postal and Communications Police uncovered a hidden service within the Darknet that was facilitating the exchange of child sexual abuse material. It was also servicing crime by hosting sellers of illegal commodities such as weapons, passport and identity documents, counterfeit and cloned credit cards, hacking services, and close to 210 sellers of drugs. The marketplace administrator earned a percentage from all of these transactions.

Italian State Police, supported by Europol’s EC3 and undercover agents from Italy’s National Centre for the Fight against Child Pornography Online (CNCPO), subsequently began an investigation to close in on the identified anonymised hidden service. Investigators discovered thousands of images online of young victims being abused, which were being exchanged by paedophiles in many hidden online locations on the Darknet. The investigation continued with the seizure of this illegal content.

Europol’s EC3 provided support and coordination during the operation, the exchange and sharing of vital information and intelligence, and on-the-spot technical support in Campania, Italy, on 29 July 2015.

EUROPOL supported spanish police against cyber criminal

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Europol has supported Spanish police* in an operation codenamed Walker, to take down a serious cybercriminal group during a coordinated action in Barcelona. With on-the-spot support from Europol, the action in Spain on 6 July resulted in the arrest of nine suspects, the dismantling of a sophisticated illegal call centre, six house searches and the seizure of numerous pieces of evidence; over 100 mobiles phones and stolen SIM cards, more than EUR 10 000 in cash, credit cards, computer equipment and other devices were taken away for further forensic examination.

The aim of this investigation was to target the cybercriminals and their accomplices who were involved in large scale telecommunication fraud as well as channelling and cashing-out the proceeds of their crimes. The criminals made fraudulent phone calls to premium service numbers set up and managed by other members of the criminal group based outside the EU. Each cybercriminal had their specialty and the group was involved in receiving mobile phones stolen from tourists in Spain, then harvesting and misusing the foreign mobile numbers (until they were blocked by the telecom operators in their countries), before then sending the money earned abroad.

Law enforcement analysed thousands of financial transactions to reconstruct the money flows and destinations across several jurisdictions. The criminal group relied on a network of accomplices who operated the destination bank accounts.

This was a very active criminal group and the damage caused by them is estimated to be at least EUR 2 million, affecting victims in various countries.

This international revenue share fraud (IRSF) is an insidious form of organised criminal activity that generates significant profits for the criminal groups and undermines the legal economy. The global estimated illegal income from this type of crime is more than EUR 45 million. Cooperation between law enforcement authorities, Europol and the telecommunication companies was crucial for the success of this operation, which represents a milestone in this specific area of digital crime.

Operation “Pangea VIII”. EU against counterfeit medicines.

The Hague: – “Our” European security agency Europol has provided its support to an Interpol operation aimed at dismantling a criminal network involved in the trafficking of counterfeit drugs, through online illegal pharmacies.
“Pangea VIII” is the name of the operation, which ended with the arrest of 156 suspects worldwide, and with the seizure of potentially harmful medicines, worth a total of $ 81 million.
The whole operation involved 115 countries and provided impetus to 429 different criminal cases. 550 were the ads for online sales network and well-removed from the 2,414 sites blacked out.
For the occasion, the European Agency – since its foundation involved in the security of the continent on the strategic plan, and even at the operational one – has seconded its experts at the Interpol HQ in Lyon, France.
Specifically, Interpol specialists and representatives of Europol have shared all the data in their possession, including those from the database held by the Haguean agency, finding numerous matches, useful for investigations.  They also provided valuable legal support to the BKA, the Austrian Federal Police, as well as the Customs Agency and the Health of that country beyond the Alps.

In addition to the discovery of a huge warehouse of counterfeit drugs in Indonesia, the various police forces involved focused on the e-mail accounts, on the domains registerers and on all those involved in delivering of goods and in electronic payments.
Among the drugs seized, they stood out  – obviously – those for erectile dysfunctions, for blood pressure and certain anticancer drugs. Many drugs were expired, or badly preserved and one of the tasks of the organization was right to alter the dates of maturity or the amount of active ingredient present in the contents.

236 was the number of involved police forces and agencies, and of course many of them were European ones.

To be noted is the fundamental and substantial support provided by some private companies and e-commerce giants such as Google, Mastercard, American Express and PayPal.
Another hit scored by the international police cooperation. Even and especially European.

Domenico Martinelli
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