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AFP
June 9, 2021

Hundreds arrested in ‘staggering’ global crime sting

AFP
June 9, 2021

THE HAGUE: Police arrested more than 800 people worldwide in a huge global sting involving encrypted phones that were secretly planted by the FBI, law enforcement agencies said Tuesday.

Cops in 16 countries were able to read the messages of global underworld figures as they plotted drug deals, arms transfers and gangland hits on the compromised ANOM devices. Mafia groups, Asian crime syndicates, motorcycle gangs and other organised crime syndicates around the world were all monitored using the spiked phones as part of Operation "Trojan Shield".

The sting, jointly conceived by Australia and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation, prevented around 100 murders, foiled several large-scale narcotics shipments and led to seizures of weapons and cash, they added.

"The results are staggering," FBI Assistant Director Calvin Shivers told reporters at the headquarters of the EU´s police agency Europol HQ in The Netherlands. Shivers said the FBI had provided criminal syndicates in over 100 countries with the devices over the last 18 months "that allowed us to monitor their communications".

Europol hailed the "exceptional" operation, which saw around 12,000 of the ANOM devices distributed worldwide to criminals who thought they were chatting in secret. "This information led over the last week to hundreds of law enforcement operations on a global scale from New Zealand to Australia to Europe and the USA, with impressive results," said Jean-Philippe Lecouffe, Deputy Director Operations at Europol.

"More than 800 arrests, more than 700 locations searched, more than eight tonnes of cocaine." Police also seized 22 tonnes of cannabis, two tonnes of methamphetamine, 250 firearms, 55 luxury vehicles and over $48 million (39 million euros) in various currencies and cryptocurrencies, Europol said.

Australian police said the supposedly hardened encrypted devices were handed out to operatives within the mafia, Asian crime syndicates, drug cartels and outlaw motorcycle gangs as part of the elaborate FBI-led plot.

Meanwhile, Interpol said that authorities in 92 countries shut down 113,000 websites and online marketplaces selling counterfeit or illicit medicines and medical products last month, including vast quantities of fake COVID-19 tests and face masks.

"As the pandemic forced more people to move their lives online, criminals were quick to target these new ´customers´," Jurgen Stock, secretary general of the international police agency, said in a statement.

Unauthorised COVID testing kits accounted for over half of all the medical devices seized from May 18 to 25, the agency said, while Italian authorities found more than 500,000 fake surgical masks and 35 machines for their production and packaging.

Police arrested 227 people worldwide and recovered pharmaceutical products worth $23 million. "Whilst some individuals were knowingly buying illicit medicines, many thousands of victims were unwittingly putting their health and potentially their lives at risk," Stock said.

A study by the EU´s intellectual property office (EUIPO) showed Tuesday that one in every 10 Europeans has been duped into buying counterfeit products, mostly coming from Asia. Many consumers struggle to differentiate between authentic products and fakes, said the study by EUIPO which is based in the Spanish coastal city of Alicante.

Counterfeit products account for 6.8 percent of the European Union´s imports and are worth 121 billion euros ($147 billion) according to figures from EUIPO and the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD).

Counterfeits are present in all sectors from clothing to electronics, toys and wine, with 9.0 percent of European "admitting they had been duped into making such a purchase," the study found.

But the percentage varies widely by country, with 12 percent in Spain, 9 percent in France, 19 percent in Bulgaria and 2 percent in Switzerland. In a context where e-commerce is booming globally due to the pandemic, in which 70 percent of Europeans shopped online last year, Eurostat figures show, "the ability to identify counterfeit products remains problematic for EU citizens", the study says.

EUIPO says 33 percent of Europeans "have already wondered about the authenticity of a product they´ve bought". EUIPO head Christian Archambeau also flagged the "rise in the number of counterfeit medications and healthcare products which can have adverse effects on people´s health and safety".