WCO – COVID-19 Update

Counterfeit medical supplies and introduction of export controls on personal protective equipment

The WCO reminds the general public to exercise extreme caution when purchasing critical medical supplies from unknown sources, particularly online. The use of these goods may cost lives. 

While the world is gripped by the fight against COVID-19, criminals have turned this into an opportunity for fraudulent activity. There have been an alarming number of reports quoting seizures of counterfeit critical medical supplies, such as face masks and hand sanitizers in particular. 

Customs and law enforcement agencies in China, Germany, Indonesia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States and Vietnam, to name but a few, have reported such seizures in the past three weeks. 

Moreover, there was a significant increase in seizures of counterfeit and unauthorized face masks and hand sanitizers during Operation Pangea XIII, a collaborative enforcement effort by the WCO, Interpol, Europol, Customs administrations, Police forces and other law enforcement agencies. This Operation, held from 3 to 10 March 2020, resulted in the seizure of 37,258 counterfeit medical devices, of which 34,137 were surgical masks. 

Online retailers have also announced a surge in sales of counterfeit goods. In particular, a US company reported the removal from its marketplace of a million products claiming to cure or prevent COVID-19. Tens of thousands of listings were removed because of price hiking, particularly for products in high demand such as masks. In one operation, US Customs and Border Protection seized counterfeit COVID-19 test kitswhich had arrived at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) by mail from the United Kingdom. This seizure triggered a joint investigation by the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crimes Unit (PIPCO), the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), resulting in one arrest and the seizure of 300 more kits and 20 litres of chemicals for the production of such kits. 

Given the shortages and the activities of market speculators, another important trend is the introduction of export licences for certain categories of critical medical supplies, such as face masks, gloves and protective gear. In particular, on 11 March 2020 Vietnam adopted Decision 868/QD-BYT by the Ministry of Health, introducing export permits for medical masks. The European Union (EU) introduced a temporary export licensing scheme for personal protective equipment as of 14 March 2020 (see Commission implementing Regulation 2020/402). Other countries, such as Brazil, India, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine, have also followed suit. 

The EU’s dual-use export control regime will also continue to be applied to more sophisticated items such as full face masks, protective gear, gloves and shoes, specifically designed for dealing with ‘biological agents’. The full list of such items can be found in Annex I to EU Regulation 428/2009, as amended.  

The WCO urges its Member Customs administrations to remain vigilant in these difficult times.

Please consult the relevant section of the WCO’s website regarding COVID-19 information, including changes in legislation, new trends and patterns, and initiatives by partners and Member administrations. 

The WCO stands ready to continue working with all its partners to disrupt the supply chains of counterfeit products that put the lives of millions of people at risk.

Source: WCO Website, 23 March 2020

Top Wildlife Detective Shot in Cold Blood

Recent good news reports indicating a decrease in rhino poaching have been marred by the sudden death of one of law enforcements top detectives.

Colleagues and friends of Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Bruwer are in shock after the leading rhino-poaching detective was gunned down in an apparent assassination.

Leroy (49), commander of the Hawks in Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit), was shot dead in his car on Tuesday morning while on his way to work.

The investigation is ongoing but according to a police statement, he was shot with a heavy-calibre weapon.

Pieter Smit, commander of the Mbombela police’s quick-response unit, says his heart broke when he arrived on the scene and saw his colleague and friend’s lifeless body.

“Hate, sadness and tears with mixed feelings,” Pieter, who was one of the first people to arrive on the scene, wrote on Facebook.

Leroy’s body had been unrecognisably mutilated by the AK-47 gunfire, Pieter continued his Facebook post. He says the only way he knew it was Leroy is because he called his friend’s number and saw the cellphone ringing in the car.

“It breaks the heart of a grown man. Leroy, you were an honest policeman and worthy officer. You didn’t deserve this.

“I salute you. Rest in peace, colleague and friend.” 

Brigadier Hangwani Malaudzi, Hawks spokesman, says a specialised task team has been formed to investigate the murder. “We’re hoping for a breakthrough soon.”

He adds Leroy was a formidable detective and made many breakthroughs in the fight against rhino poaching.

“All the evidence points to Leroy having been the target. It looks like an assassination,” Malaudzi says.

Police are following up on all leads to find the suspects.

Source: Picture and article by Jacques Myburgh, News24, 19 March 2020

National Treasury – calls for written comments on proposal on export taxes on scrap metal

Following the announcement made by the Minister of Finance in the 2020 Budget Review regarding the introduction of export taxes on scrap metal, the National Treasury today publishes for consultation the basic approach for such tax. This proposal is related to the phasing out of the current price preference system for scrap steel, and follows the recommendations from a feasibility study conducted by the International Trade Administration Commission (ITAC).   

Given the need to consult all stakeholders, including possible winners and losers, the consultation will take place in two phases.  The first phase will be a shorter and broader public comment process on the objective, implementation, functioning and economic and financial impact of such an export tax, including the level of rates and base for such a tax. Comments on the impact to current firms and industries, and the implications for the tax and trade system will also be welcome, as well as comments on strengthening the administrative capacity of SARS to implement such export taxes.  

The first phase will be followed by a more intensive second phase of public comment, on the proposed legislative provisions to give effect to specific export taxes on scrap metal, to be included in the 2020 draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill (TLAB).  The first phase will commence immediately and run up to the end of April 2020, while the second phase will commence with the publication of the Taxation Laws Amendment Bill in mid-July and run up to the end of August/September 2020. 

As recommended by ITAC, the proposed export taxes to apply to scrap metal are as follows

Scrap metal category Equivalent specific tax (Rand per tonne) Ferrous metals (including stainless steel) R1000.00 per tonne Aluminium R3000.00 per tonne Red Metals R8426.00 per tonne Other (waste and scrap metals) R1000.00 per tonne  

Written comments on the proposal on export taxes on scrap metal must be submitted by no later than 9 April 2020.    

Upon receipt of the comments and submissions on the proposal on export taxes on scrap metal, the National Treasury (working with the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and other governmental stakeholders) will engage directly with stakeholders until the end of April through technical workshops to discuss the comments received.  Thereafter, the proposed provisions on the export taxes on scrap metal will be developed for inclusion in the TLAB, which will be published in mid-July 2020 for public comment. 

Further, as part of the TLAB consultation process, National Treasury will also engage with stakeholders through the usual workshops held after the receipt of written comments on the draft Bill.  The Standing and Select Committees on Finance in Parliament are expected to make a similar call for public comment, and convene public hearings on the TLAB before the formal introduction of the Bill in Parliament. Thereafter, a response document on the comments received will be presented at the parliamentary committee hearings, after which the 2020 draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill will then be revised, taking into account public comments and recommendations made during committee hearings, before the Bill is tabled formally in Parliament for consideration.  

The proposal on export taxes on scrap metal is included in Chapter 4 of the 2020 Budget Review, which can be found on the National Treasury (www.treasury.gov.za) website.   

Due date for written comments: 9 April 2020  

Source: National Treasury website, 10 March 2020

Illicit Cigarettes – Hong Kong customs intercepts four shipping containers

Photo: Winson Wong

Hong Kong customs has uncovered HK$85 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in the largest seizure of its kind in two decades, after authorities acted on intelligence indicating a syndicate was shipping the haul into the city in four containers.

Some 31 million cigarettes were stashed in the containers from Yokohama in Japan. They were then shipped through different ports in South Korea, Vietnam and mainland China, according to Lee Hoi-man, deputy head of the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau under customs.

He said the circuitous route was used by smugglers to avoid detection.

“The containers were shipped into three to four different ports before they came to Hong Kong,” Lee said adding that the contents listed on import documents were changed to throw off law enforcement in various jurisdictions.

Four men – one mainlander and three Hongkongers – aged between 24 and 41 were arrested in the operation on Monday. They were still being held for questioning on Tuesday evening.

Information on the containers was shared to a global database operated jointly by customs from different countries, under an anti-smuggling campaign code-named “Project Crocodile”.

A law enforcement source said the containers were left idle at another port since December, but were then suddenly moved across different countries before arriving in Hong Kong, one at a time since last Friday.

Lee said: “It is possible smugglers believed our frontline officers were tied up in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.” He added that some of the contraband items were believed to be destined for countries in eastern Europe as some cigarette brands seized in the operation were popular there.

Hong Kong customs began investigating the syndicate in mid-December before identifying the four containers.

On Monday afternoon, officers from the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau swooped into action and seized 22 million sticks of cigarettes stashed in three containers at yards in Yuen Long, Sheung Shui and Man Kam To, arresting the four men.

At the Sheung Shui site, officers also seized 3,500 bottles of duty-not-paid liquor worth HK$2.5 million.

On Tuesday, the fourth container which had arrived from Shenzhen a day before was selected for inspection. Nine million cigarettes were found in it.

Lee said the combined haul had an estimated street value of HK$85 million, and was the biggest seizure of its kind in two decades in a single operation.

He said his team was working with overseas counterparts to determine the exact origin of the shipment and track down the ring leader and core syndicate members.

In Hong Kong, importing or exporting unmanifested cargo carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$2 million fine.

Source: Article by Clifford Lo, South Morning Post, 18 February 2020

South African Customs – Recent Illicit Goods Busts

Customs teams from Durban, Cape Town, Gauteng and the Free State recently dealt a blow to non-compliant traders by busting drugs, illicit cigarettes and undeclared fuel.

Customs officers at OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA) were responsible for several major drug busts over the past couple of weeks, including the following:

  • On 8 February, a female passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was stopped and her luggage scanned, which revealed suspicious images. After searching her luggage, officers discovered packages wrapped in black tape and containing a white powdery substance. The powder was tested and confirmed to be cocaine, valued at approximately ZAR54 284 349. Officers also searched a male passenger arriving on the same flight and discovered three body wraps on his torso, containing a white powdery substance. The contents were tested positive for cocaine, valued at about ZAR9 057 566. On the same day, officers intercepted a male passenger about to board a flight for Hong Kong and searched him. They discovered body wraps on his upper torso containing cocaine valued at about ZAR11 700 000.
  • On 2 February, a male passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was stopped by Customs officers and his luggage searched. After a luggage scan revealed irregular images, officers searched his bags and discovered packages wrapped in black tape containing cocaine, valued at about ZAR5 850 000.
  • On 27 January, in a similar incident to the above, a male passenger arriving from Sao Paulo was arrested after Customs officers discovered a false compartment in his luggage, which contained cocaine valued at about ZAR6 750 000.

In all the above incidents, the suspects and goods were handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.

In the Durban incident, officers became suspicious of two containers of goods arriving on a vessel in the Durban harbour from China.

The containers, which were declared to contain glassware and household goods, were placed for examination at a cargo depot in Durban. 

Upon inspection by Customs officers on 5 February 2020, the containers were found to contain various suspected counterfeit goods, and several cartons with tablets packed in plastic packets.

Members of the Customs detector dog unit reacted positively to the cartons, which were tested and found to contain Methaqualone (Mandrax).

There was a total of 15 cartons, each containing 20 000 Mandrax tablets with a street value of about ZAR24 million. The case has been handed over to the SAPS for further investigation.

In Cape Town, officers were responsible for a massive bust of illicit cigarettes, one of SARS’ key focus areas when it comes to illicit trade (particularly in terms of lost revenue due to the fiscus). 

After receiving an alert from the Compliance Risk and Case Selection team about a possible mis-declaration of a container on a ship arriving in South Africa, a detention notice was issued to the shipping liner and the goods were detained in December 2019.

After following the required legal processes, a Customs Branch Physical Inspection team searched the container at the Cape Town harbour on 20 January 2020.

During the inspection, the team discovered 1050 master cases of “LEGATE” cigarettes, each case containing 50 cartons of 10 packets, with an estimated street value of about ZAR3 150 000.

If the consignment of cigarettes was not detected, the potential loss of revenue would have amounted to about ZAR12 208 350 in Customs & Excise duties and VAT. 

The Western Cape Customs Branch Inspection team has handed over the case to Criminal Investigations from further investigation.

In the Free State, Customs officers dealt a blow to another key area of illicit trade, ie. ghost exports or false declarations of fuel. On 31 January 2020, officers stopped a truck coming from Lesotho through the Ficksburg border post. They had become suspicious of this particular trucking company, as they had recently changed their route to using South Africa as a transit route from Mozambique to Lesotho. 

Officers noticed that the same truck had driven through the border into Lesotho the day before, having declared the truck full with fuel they acquired in Mozambique. The following day it re-entered South Africa, with the driver claiming that the truck was empty (which could indicate a possible ghost export in which they were trying to avoid paying taxes and duties/levies).

They then asked the driver to park the truck at the depot for inspection. However, after the truck was taken to the depot, the truck driver disappeared and the truck company’s lawyer was called to attend an inspection. 

Customs officers then discovered the truck contained 26 000 litres of diesel, with the owners having failed to pay duties and taxes totalling ZAR176 000 due to the fiscus. The truck was detained for further investigation.

And in a similar incident, two trucks were stopped at the Maseru Bridge border post on 4 February for falsely declaring fuel coming from Mozambique to Lesotho. The trucks contained 39 388 litres and 39 414 litres of petroleum respectively. Both were detained for further investigation. 

Source: South African Revenue Service [SARS]

Cooperative Law Enforcement forces Rhino Poaching into decline

The Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries recently released a report on rhino poaching in the country for 2019. Minister Barbara Creecy said wildlife trafficking constitutes a highly sophisticated form of serious transnational organised crime that threatens national security.

“The aim is to establish an integrated strategic framework for an intelligence-led, well-resourced, multidisciplinary and consolidated law enforcement approach to focus and direct law enforcement’s ability supported by the whole of government and society.”

She paid tribute to rangers who battle poaching in the conservation areas on a daily basis. In 2018, 769 rhinos were killed for their horns in South Africa. During 2019, rhino poaching declined, with 594 rhinos poached nationally during the year.

This decline can be attributed to a combination of measures implemented in line with government’s strategy, including improved capabilities to react to poaching incidents, linked to better situational awareness and deployment of technology; improved information collection and sharing among law enforcement authorities; better regional and national cooperation and more meaningful involvement of the private sector, NGOs and donors.

“A decline in poaching for five consecutive years is a reflection of the diligent work of the men and women who put their lives on the line daily to combat rhino poaching, often coming into direct contact with ruthless poachers,” Creecy said.

Some 2 014 incursions and poacher activities were recorded in the Kruger National Park (KNP) in 2019. A total of 327 rhino were lost as a result of poaching.

The department reported that 31 elephants were poached in South Africa in 2019. Of them, 30 animals were in the KNP and one in Mapungubwe National Park.

This is a decrease in the number of elephants poached in 2018, when 71 were killed for their tusks. During 2019, some successes have also been recorded through the number of arrests and convictions linked to rhino poaching and the illicit trade in rhino horn, that reflects the joint and integrated work of law enforcement entities, including the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit of SAPS, the Hawks, SANParks, provincial park authorities and environmental management inspectors (Green Scorpions) and Customs as well as the National Prosecuting Authority.

High-profile cases that remain on the court roll in the Lowveld include:

  • State vs Jospeh Nyalungu and nine others in Nelspruit Regional Court. Provisional date for trial is May 25.
  • State vs Rodney Landela in Skukuza Regional Court. Trial date set for
  • February 19.
  • State vs Petrus Sydney Mabuza, Nozwelo Mahumane, Moshe Thobela and Romez Khoza. Trial date set in the High Court of Mpumalanga in Mbombela for July 27 and August 14.
  • State vs Petrus Sydney Mabuza and Joseph Nyalunga. Trial date set in the High Court of Mpumalanga in Mbombela on May 25 to June 19.

Since the last report on the rhino poaching situation and efforts being made to address the crime, rhino horn samples have been received for analysis from Vietnam to determine if the horns confiscated are linked to crimes in South Africa.

The Hawks have also received very good cooperation from China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan in their efforts to combat wildlife trafficking.

While acutely aware that criminal elements will continue to take advantage of the socioeconomic pressures and drive demand for illegal wildlife products, the department said it was working with a number of communities, NGOs and donors, and identified various community developmental programmes, including awareness programmes.

Source: Hazyview Herald, 13 February 2020

USCBP extends secure e-commerce supply chain pilot

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has expanded its pilot of a new, voluntary scheme to try to improve the security of low-value shipments entering US borders.

The Section 321 Data Pilot is focused in particular on e-commerce, and aims to improve data-sharing between online marketplaces, carriers, technology firms and logistics provider to help protect American consumers from illicit goods arriving by air, ocean, truck, or rail.

That includes, “illicit narcotics, unregulated prescription drugs, brand counterfeits, and unsafe food and beauty products”, according to the CBP, which plans to run the pilot until August 2021.

Nine companies have been selected to participate in the pilot, including e-commerce giants Amazon and eBay, carriers Zulily, FedEx, DHL and UPS, as well as technology firm PreClear and logistics providers XB Fulfillment and BoxC Logistics.

CBP has said that it plans to expand access to all interested and qualified participants “in early 2020.”

The participants will provide cargo origin, content, tracking, recipient and other information to CBP upfront, in addition to the information that is currently legally required for Section 321 shipments – in other words one shipment per day for eligible importers, individuals or companies with a value of $800 or less.

CBP says it wants to see whether having that additional information will enable it to perform “more effective and efficient targeted screening” of these low-value shipments.

Research published in 2018 has suggested that two-thirds of counterfeit goods intercepted by customs around the world are discovered in small parcels sent through postal or courier services.

In part because they are harder for customs officials to track and seize, and also because in many jurisdictions they have not required detailed manifests for their contents. The US stepped up the manifest requirements for Section 321 shipments from January 1, 2019.

CBP broadened the scope of the 321 Data Pilot last month, shortly after the pilot was launched in August, to include ocean shipments and international mail which weren’t included in the original plan.

“Combined with the exponential growth of the online shopping market in the US over the past five years, CBP has seen a significant increase in small, low-value packages,” said the agency in a statement.

“Today, CBP processes more than 600 million express consignment and international mail shipments a year – approximately 1.8m a day. The unprecedented growth in volume of these low-value shipments requires creative solutions to interdict illicit and dangerous products to enter the US.”

Source: article by Phil Taylor, Securityindustry.com, 20 January 2020

WCO – Illicit Trade Report 2018

Download a copy from the WCO website

During December 2019, the World Customs Organization (WCO) issued its 2018 Illicit Trade Report, the annual publication in which the Organization endeavours to quantify and map the situation concerning illicit markets in six key areas of Customs enforcement. 

Every year since 2012, the WCO has published its Illicit Trade Report with the aim of contributing to the study of the illicit trade phenomenon through robust and in-depth data analysis based on voluntary submissions of seizure data and case studies by its Member Customs administrations around the world. 

This year, the analysis provided in this Report is based on data collected from 154 Member administrations, compared to 135 the previous year.  The Report consists of six sections: Cultural Heritage; Drugs; Environment; Intellectual Property Rights, Health and Safety; and Revenue and Security. 

For the third year in a row, the WCO has partnered with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization dedicated to providing data-driven analysis and evidence-based reporting, thereby enriching readers’ experience with advanced data visualization technologies and enhanced data analysis.

“This analysis of 2018 illicit trafficking trends and patterns around the globe is aimed not only at supporting law enforcement planning activities, but also at future-proofing countries’ borders from the multitude of threats faced on a daily basis,” stressed the WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya. He also expressed his gratitude to the Customs administrations having reported their seizure data to the WCO CEN database.

Source: WCO, 19 December 2019

OECD – Recommendations on Tightening Controls over Free Trade Zones

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has drawn up recommendations on free trade zones (FTZs) in a bid to stop them being used for illicit trade.

The new guidance – published towards the end of last month – recognises the importance FTZs can play in facilitating globalised trade and stimulating economic growth, but also that they can make life easier for “increasingly sophisticated traffickers dealing in a range of prohibited goods and services including counterfeits.”

One problems with many FTZs is that they are operated by licensed private companies – or sometimes public-private partnerships – which can sometime lead to a disconnect between FTZ internal policies and the laws and regulations laid down by the governments in whose jurisdiction they operate.

The OECD notes also that some with some FTZ the authorities struggle to get physical access to the premises, while obtaining information on the activities of organisation operating within – such as the ownership of goods in transit – can be a challenge.

The result? Some economic operators may “take advantage of inadequate oversight, control and the lack of transparency in FTZ to commit trade fraud, intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement, smuggle contraband, facilitate the proliferation of weapons and launder the proceeds of crime.”

The agency’s recommendations reaffirm the need for law enforcement and other competent authorities to have direct supervision of trade through FTZs, which includes the right to demand access to information related to the production and movement of goods and carry out inspections.

Authorities must also ensure that the organisations operating FTZs are aware of their legal obligations to counter illicit trade.

It has also developed a voluntary Code of Conduct for Clean Free Trade Zone operators, including “strict control of consignments arriving from, or for which there is evidence of having transited through, FTZs that do not implement the code.”

“While FTZs produce economic benefits to their local economies, there is strong evidence that illicit trade (e.g. counterfeits, wildlife and arms) flows through them,” says the OECD.

There is “a positive correlation between the size of FTZs – in terms of employment and numbers of firms – and the value of illicit trade in counterfeits.”

Source: OECD

Spotting a Fake Wine – Scientifically

Researchers in France have shown that genuine Bordeaux wines can be distinguished from fakes by testing the minute quantities of lead in their composition.

Wines and indeed other foods and beverages tend to have low levels of lead, resulting from environmental contamination from natural or man-made sources that is taken up into plants.

Scientists have discovered that the amounts and ratios of elemental lead and lead isotopes can serve as a “fingerprint” that can determine the geographic origin of a wine – and be used to tell a genuine vintage from a knock-off.

Levels of lead in the atmosphere have been falling dramatically in recent decades since the use of lead as an additive in fuel has been banned. It’s been known for many years that lead isotope ratios can be used to identify the origin of wines as well as other foodstuffs such as milk powder.

The latest study puts the technique through its paces for a specific task – distinguishing genuine Bordeaux wines produced by prestigious vineyards over the last 50 years from wines bottled in China between 1998 and 2009.

The researchers took 43 authentic red and white Bordeaux wines from the winemaking estates of Médoc, Graves and Libourne, and ran a comparison with 17 red wines sourced from China, including 14 labeled as ‘Bordeaux’ as well as three genuine Chinese brands. The suspect bottles were selected because they either had spelling mistakes in the names of the known wineries or claimed to be from non-existing producers.

They found that the levels of lead in the genuine French wines reflected the reduction in environmental lead seen since 1969 – the date of the earliest bottle tested – and all fell within recognised safe levels.

The suspect wines had levels that overlapped with those from the French group, but tended to have isotopes suggesting more of the lead came from man-made sources such as leaded gasoline than natural, background sources.

Moreover, a subgroup analysis for four suspicious samples said to be produced in Pauillac in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007 were compared directly with genuine wines from that period and found to have different isotopic profiles.

“Despite of limited number of genuine and suspicious samples, this test give a particularly compelling example of [lead] isotopes application to authenticity issues,” write the authors.

There’s an obvious limitation to the approach of course.

“If suspicious wines … would be produced in the same region as authentic, a clear identification by lead isotopes alone may be significantly hampered or even impossible,” they note.

Source: Originally published by Securingindustry.com; Authored by Phil Taylor, 16 September 2019

‘Flying out of Africa’, an essay on China -Africa relations

cina-africa-focac

The following article featured in BusinessLive (eEdition) on 25 July 2019. It is authored by John Grobler. The article was compiled with the financial support of Journalismfund.eu’s Money Trail grant programme. 

Chinese ‘lying money’, or fei qian, is an ancient form of value exchange. But its modern incarnation is blamed for stripping Africa of its resources.

The secret of Chinese commercial success in Africa, as suggested by an 18-month investigation into the drugs-for-abalone and rosewood trade and a major Namibian tax fraud case, is an ancient system that not only allows African countries to be robbed of taxes, but also plays a part in financing the global $270bn-a-year wildlife contraband trade.

Fei qian, or “flying money”, dates back about 1,200 years, to the Tang Dynasty in China. In its simplest modern incarnation, it is a low-cost and trusted method of remitting money, much like the Islamic hawala system. For example, a person who wants to send funds to a recipient in Africa will pay a fei qian broker in China. For a commission, the broker will arrange that a counterpart in Africa pays the recipient, again for a commission. The two fei qian brokers later settle their account through, for example, the transfer of commodities of equivalent value — but also sometimes through less salubrious methods such as transfer mispricing or invoice manipulation.

In practice, the system relies on the systematic underinvoicing of Chinese imports into Africa and a seamless chain of payments system in which accounts are settled through the transfer of high-end — and often illicit — goods such as abalone, rosewood, rhino horn and ivory. In brief: goods are undervalued on their import documentation; they are then sold for cash; and that undeclared cash is subsequently channelled into high-end commodities that are remitted to China to balance the fei qian books.

“The trick behind fei qian is that the money never actually leaves China,” says a former Singaporean finance expert, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s just the commodities that get moved around” as part of a longer payment chain among the Chinese diaspora.

Unlike barter trade, fei qian is not a straight swap; it is an exchange in stored value that leaves no paper trail, except in the books of the fei qian operators themselves. What makes the system even more impenetrable, the investigation has found, is that these operators mostly seem to be older, well-established women working in a closed network of mutually trusted contacts.

This nexus, and lack of paper trail, means fei qian is largely invisible. But it occasionally appears as a gaping hole in a country’s balance of payments account with China – as Namibia has discovered in an ongoing import-tax fraud investigation.

Jack Huang, a business associate of President Hage Geingob, and Laurentius Julius, a former Walvis Bay customs official and now a customs clearing agent, are among eight suspects facing 3,215 charges of fraud and money laundering in the Windhoek high court. Continue reading →

Singapore seizes tusks from 300 elephants in ivory haul worth $12.9 million

Authorities in Singapore have stopped a shipment of almost 9 tonnes (9.9 US tons) of ivory, the largest seizure of its kind in the nation’s history. The 8.8-tonne (9.7-US ton) haul was passing through Singapore on its way from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Vietnam, according to a joint statement from the Singapore Customs, Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and the National Parks Board released Tuesday.

There were also 11.9 tonnes (13.1 US tons) of pangolin scales among the illicit cargo, the third such shipment to be intercepted in Singapore this year.Three containers said to contain timber were inspected as they passed through Singapore on July 21, revealing the huge illegal cache.

Authorities say the ivory, with tusks from nearly 300 elephants, is worth $12.9 million; the pangolin scales, estimated to have been taken from around 2,000 Giant Ground Pangolins, would fetch around $35.7 million.

Pangolins are solitary animals that have an armor of scales, which are coveted for “cultural and ethno-medicinal purposes,” according to the statement. They are also hunted for their meat.

The seizure takes the total weight of pangolin scales stopped in Singapore to 37.5 tonnes (41.3 US tons) in 2019 alone. Singapore previously seized 177 kilograms (390 pounds) of ivory in April.

In Africa, poachers kill tens of thousands of elephants a year for their tusks. Much of the demand for elephant tusks comes from China, where ivory is still seen by some as a symbol of luxury and wealth. 

“Around 55 African elephants are killed for their ivory a day, their tusks turned into carvings and trinkets,” Tanya Steele, chief executive at World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.

Source: CNN, Jack Guy, 24 July 2019

Vietnam seizes 125-kilogram haul of trafficked rhino horn encased in plaster

Fifty-five pieces of rhino horn were found hidden inside shipments of plaster at Hanoi International Airport, Vietnam’s state media reported Saturday.

Customs officers broke open plaster molds from 14 shipments to uncover the illegally trafficked horns, which weighed 125 kilograms (275 pounds) in total, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

Vietnam has the world’s largest market for illegal rhino horn, according to the World Wildlife Fund. A single horn can fetch $100,000 in Asian countries such as China and Vietnam, where buyers believe it can cure health problems from hangovers to cancer, and use it as a lifestyle drug. The global market is thought to be worth about $500 million.

The seizure in the Vietnamese capital came after Hanoi police arrested a man accused of running a wildlife trafficking ring on July 23.

That arrest followed the discovery of seven frozen tigers in a car parked in the basement of a Hanoi skyscraper.

Source: CNN, Helen Reagan and Angus Watson, 29 July 2019

USCBP seizes MSC Gayane with 18 tonnes of cocaine aboard

MSC Gayane

US customs officials seized a container ship financed by JPMorgan this week after authorities found nearly 18 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1.3 billion in the vessel.

The drug bust on the Liberian-flagged MSC Gayane is surprising for several reasons. The sheer quantity of cocaine it was carrying, its links to JPMorgan, its presence in the US, and the recent string of West African drug busts are worth noting.

A container ship financed by JPMorgan was seized by US customs officials this week after authorities found nearly 18 tons of cocaine with an estimated street value of $1.3 billion on the vessel. The drug bust on the MSC Gayane is surprising for several reasons, outlined below.

The roughly 39,500 pounds, or 17.9 metric tons, of cocaine – about the same weight as three African bull elephants – found aboard the MSC Gayane outweighed the total amount of cocaine that passed through West Africa in 2013 and all of the cocaine seized across Africa from 2013 to 2016, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The vast quantity may reflect a supply glut. Global cocaine manufacturing surged by a quarter in 2016 to 1,410 tons, according to the World Drug Report 2018. The production boom is centered in Colombia, where cultivation of the coca plant rose 17% to 171,000 hectares in 2017, according to the UN.

The link between the MSC Gayane and JPMorgan may be the most surprising aspect of the drug bust.

The MSC Gayane is operated by the Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Co., but JPMorgan helped finance MSC’s purchase of the ship. The two reportedly structured the purchase so the ship was owned by client assets in a transportation strategy fund run for JPMorgan’s asset-management arm.

JPMorgan hasn’t yet publicly addressed its association with the vessel, and it has declined to comment to Markets Insider.

The MSC Gayane sailed under the flag of Liberia, a West African country. West Africa is a popular transit route for smugglers between South America and Europe because of its porous borders, weak rule of law, largely unmonitored coastline, and limited infrastructure and resources. The proportion of cocaine seizures in Africa accounted for by West Africa rose to 78% in 2016, “reflecting the rapidly growing importance of West Africa as a transit area,” the UN Office on Drugs and Crime said.

But there appears to be little drug smuggling between West Africa and the US, making the MSC Gayane drug bust highly unusual. Higher street prices and a lower risk of getting caught make Europe a more lucrative and attractive market than the US, the Nigerian drug smuggler Chigbo Umeh told The Guardian in 2015.

While notable, the ship’s flag doesn’t necessarily implicate Liberia.

“A Liberian registered ship is not in itself a link with the West Africa drug economy,” Mark Shaw, the director of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, said in an interview with Markets Insider. “Liberia serves as a flag state for much shipping.”

The drug bust on a Liberian-flagged vessel is the latest in a string of major seizures linked to West African countries this year.

In May 2018, Algerian officials seized more than 1,500 pounds of cocaine on a Liberian-registered container ship that was transporting frozen meat from Brazil, according to the BBC. In February of this year, Cape Verde officials found 21,000 pounds of cocaine, with a street value north of $700 million, on a Panamanian-flagged vessel. A month later, authorities in Guinea-Bissau notched their biggest-ever cocaine bust – and the country’s first in a decade – when they discovered more than 1,700 pounds of the drug hidden in a false bottom of a truck loaded with fish.

“There were doubts whether West Africa was still being used as a major transit route, but these seizures seem to suggest that there is a return,” Shaw said in an interview with Bloomberg in March. “It’s a surprise and it’s very significant.”

Source: The article was written by Theron Mohamed, Market Insider, 11 July 2019

Counterfeit 35mm Fujifilm

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The market for 35mm camera film may be shrinking fast, but it still isn’t safe from counterfeiting, according to Fujifilm.

The Japanese company says it has discovered counterfeit copies of its film products fraudulently bearing its logo that aside from being of suspect quality could damage other customers’ film rolls if developed at the same time in the lab by contaminating the developing chemicals.

The counterfeiters appear to have created counterfeit Fujifilm 250D, 64D, 250T, and 500T Colour Negative Film canisters and filled them with movie film, which cannot be developed using the standard colour negative film process. This sounds more like a case of sabotage.