Technology fuelling illicit trade

Technology fuelling illicit trade
Experts say recent technology has changed the fundamentals of trade, in both legitimate and illegal economies. (Getty Images/Shutterstock)
Updated 02 January 2019

Technology fuelling illicit trade

Technology fuelling illicit trade
  • With advancement in technology, more goods are easily exploited in illegal online markets

DUBAI: Emerging technologies and the dark web are fueling illicit trade, which is posing a growing threat to global economies. Middle Eastern nations are among the many countries that have failed to prevent criminals from exploiting loopholes to traffic illegal goods. 

As the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT) points out, lying behind every sensational headline is another, often unreported, story which links to illicit trade. 

Take the North Korean nuclear crisis, which could spark a conflict costing hundreds of thousands of lives. Behind that story lies another about a criminal state that survives on counterfeit currency, arms and illicit goods such as cigarettes.

The refugee crisis ravaging Southeast Asia provides cover for human traffickers, while in the Middle East and North Africa, behind the uprisings and the humanitarian crises in war-torn countries like Yemen and Syria, lies another story about the illegal arms trade, a major factor in ongoing conflicts. 

“Illicit trade is a growing threat to economies around the world; the extent and nature of illicit trade is growing as new ways are being developed to supply illicit goods in new categories, bypassing traditional efforts to control it,” John Reiners from analysis firm Oxford Economics told Arab News. “The cost is not just lost revenues to legitimate businesses and tax authorities, but there is a link between illicit trade and organized crime. 

“Criminals fund illicit activity such as drugs and people smuggling, with proceeds from other illicit trades such as illicit cigarettes.”       

While such activities have been around as long as there have been borders, experts say recent technology has changed the fundamentals of trade, in both legitimate and illegal economies.

As Mark Shaw, director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, said: “The global revolution in telecommunications flattened organized crime structures, allowing for constant communication. And if you look at the data, it is almost amazing the degree to which illicit activities have matched licit ones since then.”

In her book, “Dark Commerce: How a New Illicit Economy Is Threatening Our Future,” expert Louise I. Shelley addresses illicit trade in tangible goods—drugs, human beings arms and counterfeits. In the past three decades, she writes, the most advanced forms of illicit trade have broken with all historical precedents and now “operate as if on steroids, tied to computers and social media.” 

Shelley says new technology, communications and globalization fuel the exponential growth of dangerous forms of illegal trade – the markets for narcotics and child pornography online, the escalation of sex trafficking through web advertisements and the sale of endangered species. These in turn have exacerbated many of the world’s destabilizing phenomena – the perpetuation of conflicts, the proliferation of arms and weapons of mass destruction, and environmental degradation and extinction.

Reiners said that technological change is having a dramatic impact on trade and provides vast opportunities for illegal trading. Along with globalization, opening borders and e-commerce, it has become easier than ever for forgers to organize and expand their business. While drugs, firearms and weapons of war are among the most widely publicized illicit trafficked goods, Reiners said other illicit products such as cigarettes and tobacco, alcoholic drinks and medicines also have serious implications for public health and often offer strong financial incentives for consumers to avoid official channels.

“Consumer behavior has changed. Buyers now are now after the lowest prices, not the legitimacy of goods. 

“Illicit trade is more likely to be online and carried out from the comfort of your own home, rather than haggling for goods in a dark alley, attracting more people to buying illicit goods, often unknowingly. “

Supply chains have become more international and complex, said Reiners, increasing vulnerabilities for illicit traders to exploit. “There are now vast volumes of small packages sent to consumers via the postal system, bypassing traditional customs points. As the economy becomes more digital, there are more opportunities for counterfeiters to create excellent copies and abuse intellectual property rights.”

Reiners also highlighted the complexities of enforcing controls on the dark net, where traders can easily switch jurisdictions. “Law enforcers have had some notable successes, but illicit traders are highly mobile. If you close down an illicit site, it pops up elsewhere. The dark web is heavily used for illicit trading, but more by hardened criminals that the average consumer.“

TRACIT annually produces its Global Illicit Trade Environment Index, which evaluates 84 economies on their structural capability to protect against illicit trade. 

Its recently published 2018 report found that, while some countries in the Middle East and Africa were praised in several indicators – such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia for its effective customs procedures – overall the MENA region scored the most poorly among regions globally, with countries including Libya and Iraq scoring among the most poorly globally. 

The UAE ranked second, after Israel, in the MENA region for its overall effectiveness in tackling illicit trade, out of 10 countries in MENA that were studied. Saudi Arabia ranked in fifth place. 

The report noted that many countries were failing to recognize the importance of fighting illicit trade. 

“Where economies aren’t under-resourced in customs or law enforcement, they may otherwise be indifferent or actively neglect illicit practices in order to continue reaping the economic benefits of being a global financial centre (like the UK) or a regional logistics hub (like Singapore, Dubai and Panama) or one of the world’s factories (like China and Vietnam) or a main source of narcotics (like Colombia). Or they may just be corrupt; corruption is far more pervasive than people appreciate, and it is by no means limited to the developing world.

“An international community of people – observers, experts, private sector executives and government officials – have identified the many ways in which illicit trade, in all its various forms, can be combated. Economies that are laggards on the issue can start small and build towards a better environment for preventing illicit trade. And the economies that are leaders should lead.”

Marco Cappellini, president of ViDiTrust and a member of the Coalition Against Illicit Trade, told Arab News that the damage to the global trade was rapidly rising toward €2 trillion and the emergency of evolving technologies, e-commerce and the dark web contributed to this figure.

“Over the last 15 years, the understanding that counterfeiting and illicit trade are scourges for developed countries has risen sharply across all stakeholders. Counterfeit goods exist in all markets, from fashion to spare parts and from toys to pharmaceutical products. The sale of counterfeit goods is on the rise year after year.”

In places like the the Middle East, which has a strong online focus and where e-commerce is expected to reach $48.8 billion, this shift online presents a new channel for illicit trade.

“Cyberspace is populated by honest sellers but also by criminal organizations,” Cappellini said. “There are several things that must be done to fight counterfeiting: Inform consumers about the risks associated in buying from dubious e-commerce stores. Inform brands that they can add security features to their products. Facilitate the cooperation between different countries to fight counterfeiting.”

Reiners said the biggest threats to global economies in the next decade, should governments fail to implement successful counteractive measures, include the substantial growth of illicit trade, loss of tax revenues, undermining of trust in the economy and trading systems, and the growth of organized crime.

He said a number of measures are needed, such as updating legal frameworks to be more relevant to the internet; monitoring and closing down illicit sites; encouraging and incentivizing major participants in e-commerce to take more responsibility for illicit trade; developing better ways of authenticating products and tracking them through the supply chain; and rerouting resources to match the new flows in trade, such as increased checks at parcel depots.

“Technology continues to provide opportunities for illicit traders and in the coming years, with advanced manufacturing, 3D printing and AI, this will continue. Those working to combat it need to invest in the latest techniques to keep up.”   


Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier
Updated 56 min 45 sec ago

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier

Afghanistan could become failed state: UK’s top soldier
  • Gen. Nick Carter: Govt forces need to secure military stalemate with Taliban so as to enable talks
  • There is a ‘real risk’ that the West is ‘giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban’

LONDON: Afghanistan risks becoming a failed state unless government forces can prevent the Taliban’s advance, Britain’s most senior soldier warned on Wednesday.

Gen. Nick Carter, the chief of defense staff, said Afghan forces have to secure a military stalemate in order to start talks between the government and the Taliban. 

He also warned the international community against giving credence to the Taliban and its leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, saying there is a risk of giving the group “legitimacy” that it does not deserve.

Carter said the country becoming a failed state “is one of the scenarios that could occur, but we have to get behind the current Afghan government and support them in what they’re trying to do.

“And if they can achieve a military stalemate, then there will have to be a political compromise. Even the Taliban at the level of Baradar recognize that they can’t … conquer Afghanistan.

“There has to be a conversation. And the important thing is to achieve the military stalemate that can then bring on that conversation.”

Carter told the BBC that there is a “real risk” that the West is “giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban movement.”

He added: “There’s a huge disparity between what Mullah Baradar is saying publicly and … what’s actually happening on the ground. 

“And the international community has got to do much more about calling out the way that the people on the ground are trashing government buildings, they’re threatening the population, there are reports of people being forced into marriages.”

Carter said he has seen “grisly videos of war crimes,” and the international community “mustn’t let them get away with this — we’ve got to call them out.”

His comments come as Tobias Ellwood, a Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, called for the West to “rethink its strategy.”

Ellwood, himself a former British Army officer, tweeted on Wednesday that there is “still time to prevent civil war” by sending “a 5,000-strong coalition force — enough to give legitimacy to the Afghan government & support to Afghan forces to contain and deter the Taliban.” He added: “Otherwise we face a failed state.”


Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
Updated 04 August 2021

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’

Belarusian president accused of using Middle East migrants as ‘political weapon’
  • Lithuania calls on the EU to take action to halt the growing number of people illegally crossing its border
  • Minister said more than 4,000 migrants have entered Lithuania illegally this year

LONDON: Lithuania accused Belarus on Wednesday of using migrants from the Middle East and Africa as a “political weapon” and urged the EU to intervene.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko was allowing flights with what he claims are tourists from Iraq, Syria and African countries who then illegally cross the border into Lithuania in an attempt to seek asylum in the EU.

More than 4,000 migrants have already entered Lithuania in this way so far this year, compared with only about 80 in the whole of 2020, Landsbergis told the website Politico.

“This is not the 2015 migration crisis,” he said. “This is not people fleeing the war in Syria. This is actually a hybrid weapon, a political weapon one might say, that is (being) used to change the European policy.”

He warned that a recent decision by Belarus to increase the number flights from Iraq to Minsk could lead to more than 6,000 migrants crossing the border into Lithuania every week.

“There are currently 24 flights to Minsk from Istanbul and eight flights from Baghdad each week,” said Landsbergis. “If you consider that each of these flights can transport up to 170 people, and if you fill all the seats with asylum seekers, the capacity is up to 6,000 people a week — or even more because new flights from Erbil have been announced on Monday. So there is a possibility for Lukashenko to really up the ante.”

The foreign minister called for increased international pressure on Minsk through further sanctions and by lobbying the home countries of migrants to take action.

“The EU could tell countries such as Iraq that there’s a list of instruments — restrictions of visa programs, for example — that we will use if they don’t stop these flights to Minsk,” Landsbergis said.

“We know that these people are not tourists coming to visit Belarus.”

The number of migrants crossing into Lithuania from Belarus could exceed 10,000 by the end of the summer, he warned, and added that this number could dramatically increase as Lukashenko approaches African governments “to build up new routes.”

“So what we are seeing might be just the beginning,” he said.

The foreign minister said he has discussed the issue with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and other EU officials who “understand the situation,” but he stressed that more must be done.

“I think we need to really step up our game,” Landsbergis said. “Because at this point the message that we are sending (is) not sufficient to change the way things are.”

Lithuania has asked for an emergency meeting of EU interior ministers this month to agree assistance for the country, which is on the front line of a new migration crisis in Europe.

On Tuesday, Lithuanian authorities said they reserve the right to use force to prevent illegal immigration, and turned away 180 people attempting to enter the country. However, rights groups said all nations have an obligation to protect vulnerable people.

“Push backs of people seeking asylum are not compatible with the Geneva Convention on Refugee Status, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and other human rights instruments” Egle Samuchovaite, program director for Lithuania's Red Cross, told the Associated Press.

She added that refusing to allow vulnerable people to cross the border leaves them in an unsafe environment, trapped between two countries.

Lithuania has no physical barriers along its almost 700-kilometer border with Belarus.

The row over the latest actions of Belarus’s authoritarian president comes after the EU imposed sanctions on his country over an incident in May that was denounced as “state piracy,” in which a Belarusian warplane was scrambled to intercept an aircraft so that a dissident journalist could be arrested.


Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
Updated 04 August 2021

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’

Young asylum seeker denied entry to UK ‘at high risk of suicide’
  • Youngster stranded on Greek island has reportedly tried to hang himself twice
  • Alleging abuse including sexual assault, he wants to join his brothers in Britain

LONDON: An expert medical report has warned that a young asylum seeker who has been blocked from joining his brothers in Britain is at high risk of suicide.

Samir, whose name has been changed for his safety and security, is stranded in Greece away from his family.

He fled his home country in 2019 after reportedly enduring torture and detention, and has been living alone on the island of Samos.

He was assessed by the Greek authorities last year as being 20 years old but maintained that he was a child.

He is appealing the decision, but was refused access to Britain by the Home Office, which denied him access to the family reunion process to join his two brothers. His brothers are both refugees in Britain, arriving in February this year.

His application was rejected because the Greek authorities determined that he was an adult, but Samir argues that he is 17.

Immigration authorities in Greece also said there was “insufficient” evidence of a close relationship between Samir and his family. His lawyers in Britain are challenging the decision on both grounds.

Samir previously told The Independent newspaper about the horrendous conditions he was facing on the fringe of his refugee camp, saying he was being bullied and abused, and enduring sexual assault from an older man.

Lawyers said he has tried to hang himself twice, and has had no access to any mental health support.

A medical report written by Prof. David Bell, one of the UK’s leading psychiatric experts in asylum and immigration, found that Samir is in a “complex chronic traumatized state.”

Bell assessed Samir via video link, writing that he suffers from a “severe depressive disorder.”

Bell concluded on July 29 that it is “clear” Samir will continue to suffer from his disorder “as long as he remains in this environment, regardless of any treatment he can receive.”

Bell added that Samir is within the worst 5 percent of the approximately 400 refugees he has assessed during his career.

He said in the report submitted to court in Britain that it is “absolutely essential” that Samir is “removed from this environment from a mental point of view as soon as possible” and “transferred to the UK to be with his brothers.”

Rebecca Chapman, Samir’s barrister, argued on Tuesday that the Home Office had failed to adequately consider his situation and vulnerabilities through its denial of his right to family life.

Representing the Home Office, lawyer Simon Murray disputed the accusations, saying the department’s decisions were made lawfully.

The asylum seeker’s UK-based solicitor, Rachel Harger of Bindmans Solicitors, said: “Samir is living out the reality of what it means to rely on so-called legal ‘safe’ pathways before entering the UK: Inordinate delays and relentlessly hostile litigation conduct from the Home Office.”

She added: “Notwithstanding the very real risk of physical harm Samir continues to face, there is likely to be a long term impact to his mental health as a consequence of living in a chronically traumatised state whilst in perpetual fear for over a year and a half. This cannot be considered a ‘safe’ route for Samir.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Protecting vulnerable children is an absolute priority for the government and in 2019, the UK received more asylum claims from unaccompanied children than any other European country, including Greece.

“As part of our New Plan for Immigration to fix the UK’s broken asylum system, we will continue to welcome people through safe and legal routes and prioritise those most in need.”


7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK
Updated 04 August 2021

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK

7 convicted of drive-by shooting that killed Lebanese law student in UK
  • Aya Hachem was ‘in the wrong place at the wrong time’ amid dispute between businesses
  • Family: ‘Words can’t describe the pain we’ve had to go through’

LONDON: Seven men have been convicted of murdering a Lebanese law student in Britain after she was shot in a drive-by shooting amid a dispute between rival tyre firms.

Aya Hachem, 19, was shot dead from a car in Blackburn, northern England, on May 17 last year while walking to collect groceries. 

The court heard that she was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” when Feroz Suleman, 40, was orchestrating an attempt to assassinate a rival businessman.

Law student Aya Hachem, 19, was hit by a bullet fired from a vehicle near her home in May 2020 in Blackburn, a town in northern England. (Lancashire Police)

Suleman was captured on CCTV cameras loitering outside RI Tyres to watch the shooting of Pachah Khan, who headed the neighboring Quickshine Tyres business.

Anthony Ennis, 31, drove past Khan’s premises three times with 33-year-old gunman Zamir Raja.

Their Toyota passed Quickshine Tyres for a fourth time at 3 p.m. when Raja opened fire at Khan, missing his first shot — which struck the window behind him — before firing a second round that hit Hachem.

The jury at Preston Crown Court found Suleman guilty of her murder and of the attempted murder of Khan. 

Raja and Ennis were also convicted of murder and attempted murder, alongside their accomplices Kashif Manzoor, 26, Ayaz Hussain, 35, Abubakr Satia, 32, and his brother Uthman Satia, 29.

The jury found 26-year-old Judy Chapman, Uthman’s girlfriend, guilty of manslaughter, but not guilty of Khan’s attempted murder.

 

Hachem had recently finished her second-year law exams at the University of Salford when she was murdered. She had planned to train as a barrister after completing her studies.

Her father Ismail emigrated to Britain 10 years ago. Hachem was one of four children, and was described by her parents as “the most loyal, devoted daughter.”

Her older brother Ibrahim said her death felt like “a piece of your soul that got taken away” as he heard of the court’s decisions. 

“After nearly a year and a half, they’ve got what they deserve,” he said. “They can’t hurt anyone any more. But my sister isn’t coming back. Words can’t describe the pain we’ve had to go through.”

A statement from the family welcoming the verdict said: “To our dear beautiful angel in heaven, we know you are in a better and more beautiful place.”

Hachem’s murderers will be sentenced on Thursday. Chapman is expected to be sentenced in October.


WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots
Updated 04 August 2021

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots

WHO calls for moratorium on Covid vaccine booster shots
  • WHO chief called on countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
  • More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally

GENEVA: The WHO on Wednesday called for a moratorium on Covid-19 vaccine booster shots until at least the end of September to address the drastic inequity in dose distribution between rich and poor nations.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on the countries and companies controlling the supply of doses to change gear and ensure more vaccines to less wealthy states.
“I understand the concern of all governments to protect their people from the Delta variant. But we cannot accept countries that have already used most of the global supply of vaccines using even more of it, while the world’s most vulnerable people remain unprotected,” Tedros told a press conference.
“We need an urgent reversal, from the majority of vaccines going to high-income countries, to the majority going to low-income countries.”
More than 4.25 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines have now been administered globally, according to an AFP count.
In countries categorized as high income by the World Bank, 101 doses per 100 people have been injected — with the 100 doses mark having been surpassed this week.
That figure drops to 1.7 doses per 100 people in the 29 lowest-income countries.
“Accordingly, WHO is calling for a moratorium on boosters until at least the end of September, to enable at least 10 percent of the population of every country to be vaccinated,” said Tedros.
“To make that happen, we need everyone’s cooperation, especially the handful of countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
Tedros said the G20 group of nations had a vital leadership role to play because those countries are the biggest producers, consumers and donors of Covid-19 jabs.
“It’s no understatement to say that the course of the Covid-19 pandemic depends on the leadership of the G20,” he said.