Archives For Illicit Goods

Abalone Shells

Oxpeckers’ environmental investigative journalist, Crystal Chow,  digs up the dirt on the illicit abalone trade.

Abalone tops the list of the most exquisite seafood in Chinese cuisine, and fresh South African abalone are always the first choice for feasts in Cantonese restaurants, where one fresh abalone alone can cost up to HK$2,000 (about R3,000). In recent years, the overfishing and smuggling of wild abalone has pushed this endemic species of the South African coast towards extinction.

“The South African wild abalone are heavier, and they are better than the farmed Japanese and Australian ones in terms of fresh flavour and texture,” said Chit-yu Lau, general manager of Ah Yat Abalones restaurant in Hong Kong. “Our fresh South African abalone are all imported through legitimate channels. The smuggled ones are usually dried, and are rare in Hong Kong.”

Nonetheless, the illicit abalone trade has been gathering significant attention from conservationists combating wildlife trafficking, who believe the profitable contraband market of abalone is linked to the black market of ivory and rhino horns – both of which are driven by high demand from the Chinese market. To read the full story Click here!

Source: oxpeckers.org, author – Chow. C, June 9, 2017.

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Cigarette Smuggling in Logs

September 23, 2017 — 1 Comment

Police are on high alert looking for a syndicate that uses donkeys to smuggle luxury cars across the Limpopo River into the Zimbabwe.

Thieves tied ropes to the cars which were hitched on to the donkeys to pull the cars across the river.

Some cars are driven through the drier parts of the river. On Tuesday, a Mercedes Benz C220 was intercepted before it disappeared into Zimbabwe.

“Our members were just in time to pounce on them after the donkeys were apparently no longer able to pull it through the sand,” Brigadier Motlafela Mojapelo  for the SA Police Service said.

The suspects fled into the bushes towards Zimbabwe side. Most of the cars are being smuggled across the river through the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe, south of Beitbridge border post.

In December, police recovered a Hilux bakkie when thieves attempted to smuggle it through the river. The bakkie was stolen in Durban.

It was semi-submerged in the water when Limpopo police commissioner Lieutenant-General Nneke Ledwaba spotted it from a helicopter while he was leading a high-density operation in Musina and Beitbridge.

The vehicle and donkeys were abandoned in the middle of the river and the suspect fled into Zimbabwe. It is not clear why the thieves do not simply driver the car into Zimbabwe – one reason might be that most modern cars are fitted with a tracking device which uses satellite tracking to locate a vehicle, if stolen. The tracker is only active when the car is running.

Mojapelo said 13 vehicles have been recovered since January this year. Thieves target luxury bakkies, SUV’s, specifically Toyota and Isuzu. Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are the two provinces that are mostly affected.

Last week, four vehicles were recovered. A Range Rover worth R900 000 was recovered after police intercepted it at the Beitbridge border post. The vehicle was en route to Malawi. The man was arrested and was found in possession of cash with an estimated amount of R30 000.

Mojapelo said the car had Limpopo registration numbers, but it was still unclear where it was stolen. Source: Pictures – SAPS and article – Iavan Pijoos, News24, 2 August 2017.

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Cape Town businessman Arnold Bengis drained South Africa’s seas – and now it is payback time.

A US court has ordered the 81-year-old to pay South Africa $37-million (about R483-million) for catching thousands of tons of rock lobster over 14 years.

The restitution amount replaces a $21-million payment Bengis agreed to make to South Africa in 2004. Because he paid only $1.25-million and placed the rest “out of reach of the US”, Manhattan District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan sentenced him on Wednesday to more than four years’ imprisonment.

Kaplan ordered an immediate arrest warrant for Bengis, now living in Israel. State attorney Kiersten Fletcher said US authorities would try to extradite him.

Said the judge: “There is value to Mr Bengis understanding that.there may be a knock at the door and a pair of handcuffs in his future.”

The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries wanted $100-million in restitution but it welcomed Kaplan’s judgment.

“We are fairly satisfied with the $37-million, but we hope [Bengis] won’t appeal it, so the payment will be effected as soon as possible,” said the department’s Thembalethu Vico.

Although Bengis’s activities stopped 17 years ago, damage to the coastal ecosystem was still depriving fishing communities of access to resources, he said.

Former department head of fisheries Horst Kleinschmidt, who testified in the District Court in 2004 about Bengis’s fishing activities, quoted research that suggested free-falling rock lobster stocks “immediately stabilised” after his operation was stopped.

He said yesterday that when officials discovered the extent of Bengis’s plunder “it made nonsense of any scientific inquiry” into environmental factors behind declining fish stocks.

“He hired lots of little fishermen with boats to supply him with contraband fish stocks. The decline is evident in the total allowable catch figures, which the scientists set lower and lower. Once he was caught, we realised he was a major source of that,” he said.

His fleet of trawlers overfished more than 2200t of West Coast rock lobster between 1987 and 2000. The $37-million was the proceeds of just one year, plus interest, said an Ocean and Land Resources Assessment Consultants report.South Africa will be the first foreign government to be compensated under a 117-year-old US law, the Lacey Act, which regulates imports of protected species.

Department lawyer Barnabas Xulu said it took his team six months to prepare for the case and hailed the ruling as “ground-breaking”, but conceded there could still be challenges ahead.

During arguments in court, Kaplan told Bengis’s attorney, Eric Creizman, his client “rearranged” his assets, amounting to $25-million, into a Channel Islands fund so the US government could not reach it. Source: Times Live (2017, July 21)

A Hong Kong woman was caught late last month crossing the border into the mainland with an impressive 102 iPhones taped to her body — apparently, Shenzhen customs officers became a wee bit suspicious after noticing the woman’s unusually bulky clothing and strange stride.

They ordered her to take a walk through the X-ray scanner, which promptly sounded its alarm. A check revealed not only more than a hundred iPhones, but also 15 Tissot watches that were taped around her chest. In total, the smuggled items weighed about 20 kilograms, according to an Oriental Daily.

Vietnam-Ivory

Vietnamese authorities have seized nearly three tonnes of ivory hidden among boxes of fruit, officials said on Sunday, the latest haul to spotlight the country’s key role in the global wildlife smuggling trade.

Police in the central province of Thanh Hoa found 2.7 tonnes of tusks inside cartons on the back of a truck that was on its way to Hanoi, according to their website.

“This is the largest seizure of smuggled ivory ever in Thanh Hoa province,” the report said.State media said the elephant tusks originated from South Africa.

The truck driver claimed he was unaware of what he was transporting, according to a report in state-controlled Tuoi Tre newspaper.

The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

There are now believed to be some 415,000, with 30,000 illegally killed each year. Prices for a kilogramme of ivory can reach as high as US$1,100 (Dh4,040).

Vietnam outlawed the ivory trade in 1992 but the country remains a top market for ivory products prized locally for decorative purposes, or in traditional medicine despite having no proven medicinal qualities.

Weak law enforcement in the communist country has allowed a black market to flourish, and Vietnam is also a busy thoroughfare for tusks trafficked from Africa destined for other parts of Asia, mainly China.

Last October, Vietnam customs authorities discovered about 3.5 tonnes of elephant tusks at Cat Lai port in Ho Chi Minh city, all in crates of wood, including a hefty two-tonne haul packed into a single shipment.

In 2015, 2.2 tonnes of tusks, originating from Mozambique, were discovered and seized northern Hai Phong port.

And last week authorities in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tonnes of ivory, the largest haul in the city for three decades.

While low level couriers are sometimes arrested across Asia very few wildlife trafficking kingpins are brought to justice. Source: The National

Customs officers in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tons of ivory from a shipping container arriving from Malaysia on July 4.

The seizure was made at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound, and once its weight is confirmed, the haul could become a record seizure – the largest ever recorded in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database – narrowly surpassing the 7.138 tons seized in Singapore in 2002.

According to a government media release, the consignment was declared as “frozen fish” and the tusks hidden beneath frozen fish cartons.

The massive seizure underlines both Malaysia’s and Hong Kong’s role as key smuggling hubs in the international trafficking of ivory. Three people – a man and two women were arrested in connection with the seizure.

The ETIS database is managed by the NGO TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It contains tens of thousands of elephant-product seizure records dating back to 1989.

Under CITES guidelines, any seizure of 500kg or more is considered indicative of the involvement of organized crime. All parties making such large-scale seizures are obliged to examine them forensically as part of follow-up investigations.

Dr Yannick Kuehl, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for East Asia, said, “No doubt Hong Kong’s geographic location coupled with the currently relatively lenient penalties in place for anyone convicted of wildlife crime are reasons behind the shipment coming through the port. The case for increasing penalties has never been stronger.”

Hong Kong is currently reviewing its legislation regarding wildlife crime and the Legislative Council is currently debating plans to phase out the territory’s domestic ivory trade over the next five years, a timescale that is out of step with neighboring mainland China which intends to end its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. Source: Maritime Executive/TRAFFIC/HongKong Government – Photo’s: Alex Hofford/WildAid.

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Dubai Customs has introduced a sophisticated scanner that can detect 25 controlled and banned items in 25 seconds, in a bid to clamp down on smuggling. “The Ionscan 500DT can also detect as little drugs or explosives as one nanogram — which is one billionth of a gram” — according to Mohammad Juma Nasser Buossaiba, Director-General of the UAE Federal Customs Authority.

The highly sensitive scanner, equipped with HD touchscreen, is one of many other advanced equipment the authority has provided the Dubai Customs with in order to tightly secure all the crossing borders of the emirate. The new devices are in line with a memorandum of understanding signed recently between the UAE Federal Customs Authority and Dubai Customs. The Federal Customs Authority will also provide training to Dubai Customs staff on how to use the new devices, apart from the regular maintenance. Source: CustomsToday.pk and WCO IRIS

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The notices detailing President Donald Trump’s promise to build a “big, attractive wall” were made public late Friday (3 April 2017) by Customs and Border Protection. The request from the Customs and Border Protection Department called for a 30-ft-high wall, but said that plans to build a wall minimum 18 ft in height may be acceptable.

“The north side of wall (i.e. USA facing side) shall be aesthetically pleasing in color, anti-climb texture, etc., to be consistent with general surrounding environment”, reads the RFP. In the documents, CBP says that the side facing the US must also be “aesthetically pleasing” in “color, anti-climb texture etc., to be consistent with general surrounding environment”.

And that’s before a new Trump budget, which came out Thursday, includes $2.6 billion over two years to begin construction of the wall. The government is asking for a 9-meter-high concrete barrier, extending 2 meters underground, built to be “physically imposing” and capable of resisting nearly any attack, “by sledgehammer, vehicle jack, pickaxe, chisel, battery-operated impact tools, battery-operated cutting tools [or] oxy/acetylene torch”.

Earlier this week Mexican lawmakers increased pressure on Mexican construction firms tempted to help build deeply reviled wall.

The proposal document asks contractors for 30-foot-long prototypes and mock-ups of 10 feet by 10 feet. Although Trump made it a centerpiece of his presidential campaign to get the Mexican government tol pay for the wall, expectations are low that the U.S.’s southern neighbor will give money while it’s being built or afterwards.

The specifications leave almost all of the design work to interested bidders, who now have about two weeks to develop and submit their plans, known as proposals. Trump called for the wall to stop illegal immigration into the United States from Mexico and to cut off drug-smuggling routes.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) said in January that the wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion, though other estimates have put the price tag as high $25 billion.

There was some misplaced optimism that Donald Trump would immediately jettison all of his inane campaign promises upon taking office; that the threat of a wall at the Mexican border would be quietly tabled for its obvious insanity.

Proponents of a wall make two questionable assumptions: First, that there will be a continued north flow of refugees. Friday’s release did not address the overall cost of the wall. The city of Berkeley, California, said last week it would refuse to do business with any company that’s part of the border wall. The cost of about 1,000 miles of wall could cost $21.6 billion between now and 2020. Published on Aliveforfootbal website

Belissima!

March 29, 2017 — Leave a comment

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has seized a Ferrari that was smuggled into the country. The luxury vehicle worth an estimated R13.8m was stored at a warehouse in South Africa since 2014.

In February 2015, however, the vehicle’s owner submitted an export declaration to take the car to the Democratic Republic of Congo through Beitbridge border post. A day later, there was an attempt to have the vehicle returned to South Africa through the same border post.

The vehicle has been detained and a letter of intent has been issued to the owner in terms of the Promotion of Administrative Justice Act No 3 of 2000 to enable them to make representation to SARS.

cigarettes

The Zimbabwe Herald suggests that Zimbabwe could be losing millions of dollars in unpaid taxes due to rampant smuggling of cigarettes into South Africa, investigations by this paper have revealed.Between 2014 and 2015, local customs officials seized nearly 2 500 cartons worth around $500 000 in taxes, according to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

Figures from the South African side are staggering, showing a wide discrepancy in the value of confiscated contraband between the two neighbouring southern African countries.

The South African Revenue Service told The Herald Business that it had seized R87 million (US$6,2 million) worth of Zimbabwean cigarettes since 2014, or 95 million sticks.

This will likely be worth millions of dollars in evaded tax in Zimbabwe, but the ZIMRA director for legal and corporate services Ms Florence Jambwa said the figures were difficult to determine because smuggling was an underground trade.

South Africa, however, says it loses an estimated R40 million (US$2,9 million) to cigarette smuggling each year, on the average, more than half of it Zimbabwe-related.

And this is just from what is on public record. Customs officials from both countries admit the figures could be higher. Both are also greatly incapacitated to detect illegal trades quickly.

“It is difficult to measure the levels of smuggling as this is an underground activity mostly done through undesignated entry points,” said ZIMRA’s Jambwa, by email.

“The value of the potential loss cannot be easily ascertained,” she said, failing to provide an estimate.

Tax analyst Mr Tendai Mavhima said the figures from ZIMRA represent only a small portion of the actual amount of money Zimbabwe is losing to trafficking of cigarettes.

“The disparity in figures (ZIMRA and SARS figures) indicate there are problems in controls on either side, which may result in the revenue and tax losses from both countries being understated,” he said by telephone.

Zimbabwe is the world’s fifth largest producer of tobacco after China, the USA, Brazil and India.

The country produces flue-cured Virginia tobacco, considered to be of extremely high quality and flavour, according to a report on Zimbabwean tobacco companies by local stockbroking firm, IH Securities.

As such, Zimbabwean tobacco ends up in many top cigarette brands across the world, it says.

It is especially popular in China, the largest importer of Zimbabwean tobacco, and in South Africa, the country’s largest trading partner.

In South Africa, Zimbabwean cigarettes are on demand for two key reasons: high quality and affordability.

It costs just $1,50 for 20 sticks in Zimbabwe compared to $3,20 for the same number of sticks in South Africa, according to estimates by regional economic bloc, SADC.

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) said: “Cigarette clientele opt for cheaper cigarettes. The high supply and demand for illicit cigarettes creates the market for it.”

South Africa imposes very high taxes on cigarette imports – about 80 percent meaning many Zimbabwean dealers choose to export illegally.

SADC says illegal dealers supply nearly two thirds of the number of cigarettes smoked by South Africans.

In 2011 alone, at least 4 billion cigarettes smuggled into South Africa originated from Zimbabwe, it says.

The undeclared cigarettes are usually concealed in trucks, buses and other vehicles destined for South Africa by organised cartels, said Florence Jambwa of ZIMRA.

Sometimes the cargo is shipped at undesignated points on the porous border between the two countries. Source: Zimbabwe Herald

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SARS offers non-intrusive inspection capability at 3 ports of entry and exit to the Republic of South Africa namely, Port of Durban, Port of Cape Town and Beit Bridge border post. These facilities are intended to offer an expedited inspection service without having to physically break seals or de-van a vehicle or container. Given that the equipment offers high resolution  capability based on x-ray imaging technology, safety and and occupational health standards are a priority.

SARS has recently published a standard (SC-CC-35) for external parties relating to the scanner operation as well as health and safety standards. Source: SA Revenue Service

 

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Leaders from global shipping firms, freight forwarders, brand owners whose products are counterfeited and industry organizations representing both industries signed a joint Declaration of Intent to Prevent the Maritime Transport of Counterfeit Goods in Brussels last week.

The event marked the first time the global shipping industry and brand owners have made a public commitment to work together to stop the transport of counterfeit goods on shipping vessels.

Initial signatories include the leading global shipping firms and freight forwarders and ten major multinational brand manufacturers, along with the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA), and the International Chamber of Commerce’s (ICC) Business Action to Stop Counterfeiting and Piracy (BASCAP) and Commercial Crime Service (CCS).

More transporters, brand owners and their industry associations are expected to join the voluntary initiative as awareness grows.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, about 90 percent of all international trade is moved around the world in more than 500 million containers on 89,000 maritime vessels. While this represents approximately 90 percent of all international trade, UNODC says that less than two percent of these containers are inspected to verify their contents. This results in enormous opportunities for criminal networks to abuse this critical supply chain channel to transport huge volumes of counterfeit products affecting virtually every product sector.

According to a recent OECD/EUIPO report, $461 billion in counterfeit goods moved through international trade in 2013, with almost 10 percent being shipped on maritime vessels.

Maersk Line and CMA CGM Group, two of the largest global transport companies with approximately half of all global shipping, and Kuehne and Nagel and Expeditors, two of the leading freight forwarding and logistics companies with total revenues of more than $27 billion, were the first in their industries to sign the Declaration.

The non-binding Declaration acknowledges the “destructive impact” of counterfeits on international trade. It calls on the maritime transport industry to address it “through continuous proactive measures, and corporate social responsibility principles.” The Declaration includes a zero tolerance policy on counterfeiting, strict supply chain controls and other due diligence checks to stop business cooperation with those suspected of dealing in the counterfeit trade.

This commitment paves the way for new voluntary collaboration programs between intermediaries and brand owners to stop abuse of the global supply chain by counterfeiters.

“We are proud to be among the first in our industry to sign this historic Declaration,” said Michael Jul Hansen, Customs and Trade Compliance Lead for Maersk Line. “Maersk has been a leader in taking steps to prevent the use of our vessels for the shipment of counterfeit and other illicit goods, and this Declaration is a reaffirmation of our intent to do everything we can to ensure our ships are counterfeit free.”

The Declaration is a direct reaction to the concerns of brand owners that vessels transporting their legitimate products were also being exploited by criminal networks to transport fake versions. This phenomenon was summarized in a landmark report on the Role and Responsibilities of Intermediaries: Fighting Counterfeiting and Piracy in the Supply Chain, published in 2015 by BASCAP. Following publication of the report, BASCAP organized a working group of its members to initiate a cross-sector dialogue with the transport industry to discuss ways to work together to find voluntary solutions. Source: Maritime Executive 

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In 2010, after spending six years and $19 billion on research to develop better bomb detecting technology, Pentagon officials admitted that dogs’ noses were still superior to their most sophisticated technology. Now scientists say the reason for this might lie simply in the way they sniff.

In her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, an assistant of psychology at Barnard College, offers an analogy to show just how powerful a dog’s sense of smell is: while we might be able to tell if a teaspoon of sugar has been added to our coffee, place the same amount in a million gallons of water (roughly the equivalent of two Olympic-sized pools) and a dog would most likely be able to detect it.

This ability to single out and pick up even the faintest of odors is what makes dogs invaluable as bomb detectors. They can detect trace explosives in crowded settings such as airports and public transit areas, as well as odorless chemicals like TNT.

However training pooches to be effective bomb detectors is expensive and time-intensive. While all dogs have a superior sense of smell, not every breed is trainable. Hence the on-going quest to develop an e-nose that can equip bomb detectors with the canal physiology of dogs.

In the latest development in this arena, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory and the US Food and Drug Administration have found that the way a dog sniffs could shed light on how to improve trace detection capabilities.

While we don’t differentiate between breathing and smelling, a dog, with its far more complex nasal system, treats them as two separate functions. According to Matt Staymates, a mechanical engineer at NIST, apart from having a complex olfactory system, the key to what makes dogs so good at sniffing out bombs is, well, in its sniff. This is a two part-process and key to this is what happens when it exhales.

Breathing and smelling are treated as two separate functions in a dog’s nose. When it inhales, the air is channeled into two different paths and when it exhales, the air exits through the sides of its nose so that the exiting air doesn’t interfere with its ability to smell. As counterintuitive as it might sound, when it exhales, the outgoing air jets “entrain—or draw in—vapor-laden air toward the nostrils. During inhalation, the entrained air is pulled into each nostril.”

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Using a 3D model of a Labrador retriever’s (one of the most commonly used breeds in bomb detection) nose to mimic how dogs sniff, and together with the help of schlieren imaging – a technique used for imaging the flow of air around objects – and high-speed video, Staymates and his team were able to confirm the above conjecture.

In their first set of experiments, they found that compared with trace-detection devices that rely on continuous suction, the artificial dog nose was four times better 10 cm (3.9 inches) away from the vapor source and 18 times better at a stand-off distance of 20 cm (7.9 inches).

When they integrated it with a commercially available vapor detector, the switch, which enabled it to sniff like a dog rather than inhale in its standard 10-second intervals, improved its ability to detect odors by a factor of 16 at a stand-off distance of 4 cm (1.6 inches).

This research team is not the first to study how the canine sniffing abilities can be used to develop a better bomb detector. In 1997, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched the Dog’s Nose program for this purpose. One of the technologies to emerge from it was a chemical explosives detector called Fido, which was modelled after the canine nasal physiology.

However while there have been various attempts to develop a canine e-nose over the years, the results, while promising, have not yet resulted in a breakthrough for the industry. Reliability as well as the ability to detect things at a distance remain a challenge and while this latest study confirms yet again the dog’s remarkable olfactory prowess, it is “just a piece of the puzzle,” as Staymates notes. “There’s lots more to be learned and to emulate as we work to improve the sensitivity, accuracy and speed of trace-detection technology.” Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology NIST 

Zimbabweans protesting against restrictions on imports of basic goods from South Africa have forced the closure of the border post between Zimbabwe and South Africa on Friday.

On June 17, the Zimbabwean government said that it was suspending imports of products including bottled water, furniture, building materials, steel products, cereals, potato crisps and dairy products, most of which arrive from South Africa. A Statutory Instrument No. 64 of 2016 which effectively tightens the screws on the import of these products is purportedly intended to target businesses and not ordinary travellers buying goods for personal consumption. However, Zimbabwean Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) officials continued to demand permits and confiscate the listed goods, sparking the chaos.

A warehouse owned by ZIMRA for the storing of illicit goods seized from people crossing the border was set alight by the protesters on Friday, 1 July 2016.

More than 85% of working age Zimbabweans have no formal job and many make a living by buying goods in South Africa to sell in Zimbabwe. Source: New Zimbabwean/ Reuters.