28th February 2018
MOST CANNABIS IN THE UK IS ‘HIGH-RISK’ SUPER-STRENGTH SKUNK
On 28th February, Sky News reported on a study in which researchers find the proportion of police confiscations for highly-potent skunk rose from just over a half in 2005 to 94% in 2016, and warning of potential mental health risks after they found most of the cannabis consumed in the UK is super-strength sinsemilla – or skunk. The researchers looked at almost a 1000 seizures from London, Kent, Derbyshire, Merseyside and Sussex – the same areas were sampled in 2005 and 2008.
DOJ TO BACKSTOP US STATES’ EFFORTS TO HOLD BIG PHARMA LIABLE IN OPIOID CRISIS
The New Jersey Law Journal on 27th February reported that the US Attorney General outlined plans to create a new litigation-oriented task force within the Department of Justice to pursue claims against opioid manufacturers and distributors. For some background on the crisis see –
MORE ON DISCLOSURE PROBLEMS IN THE UK
Another BBC Radio 4 programme, this time “File on 4”, concerned with problems with disclosure of evidence in criminal trials in England and Wales. This asks if the current disquiet about disclosure should also extend to the Magistrates’ Courts where almost all criminal cases start off. Some defence lawyers say evidence that could be helpful to their clients’ cases is being with-held and are they’re concerned that justice isn’t always being served.
WHY PHYSICAL ID IS HOLDING ITS OWN AGAINST DIGITAL
Secure ID News on 27th February carried an article about a new white paper from ITW Security Division, called “The Physical ID Card is Dead – Long Live the Physical ID”. This lists some of the reasons that are contributing to the durability of physical ID, and says that there is a relatively bright future for physical forms of identification even as digital ID gains more ground. This, and other related, white papers are available at –
THE RARE METALS THREAT TO LATIN AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTS
The Open Democracy website ON 27TH February carries an article which argues that the anticipated spike in demand for “technology metals,” including rare earth elements lithium, niobium, and coltan, has ignited fierce debates over the development of some of Latin America’s most iconic places. It says that some estimates put Latin America’s combined reserves of these elements at 50 million tonnes, or roughly 40% of known global supply. Mining technology metals presents a conundrum: is the sacrifice of local environments and livelihoods a fair price to pay for the proliferation of clean energy technologies? It comments that it is significant that technology metals are often compared to gold – white gold, the new gold, or 21st Century gold – reflecting a get-rich-quick mentality in which only the boldest will capture untold treasures lying beneath some of the most important and iconic environments of the world. Rapid exploitation is seen as the solution to so many problems: national development, the global climate crisis, regional stability, to name a few.
2 MEN ARRESTED IN US FOR EXPORTING FIREARMS TO CHECHNYA
On 27th February, the Fairfax County Times and others reported that it is alleged that Tengiz Sydykov, 28, and Eldar Rezvanov, 27, each citizens of Chechnya residing in Virginia, purchased over 100 disassembled firearms and allegedly attempted to ship them to Chechnya without a licence. They then allegedly attempted to smuggle the firearms to Chechnya by using false shipping inventories and disguising the disassembled firearms as kitchen utensils.
SLOWLY BUT SURELY, LUXEMBOURG IS COMPLYING WITH THE 4TH ML DIRECTIVE
Compliance Week on 27th February carried a report on the implementation of the 4th EU money laundering Directive in Luxembourg, where the parliament published 2 draft laws to implement transparency measures on 6th December. Luxembourg is already late in transposing the EU Directive, as most Member States have already done so, and the country is likely to be in trouble with the European Commission if it does not move quickly. The first of the 2 laws establishes a register of beneficial owners of companies and other legal entities, and the second a register of trusts and their owners. Branches of non-Luxembourg companies appear to be excluded, because they will be covered by AML regulations in their home country. The article provides detail of the draft laws and likely timetable.
MALAYSIAN CENTRAL BANK POLICY ON DIGITAL CURRENCIES
On 28th February, Free Malaysia Today reported that Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) has issued the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism Policy for Digital Currencies to ensure that effective measures are in place to combat such activities. It said that said the policy had taken into account feedback received during the public consultation period on the exposure draft released on 14th December. The central bank also reminded the public that digital currencies are not legal tender in Malaysia, and therefore digital currency businesses are not covered by prudential and market conduct standards or arrangements that are applicable to financial institutions regulated by BNM.
See also –
SOUTH AFRICAN PROSECUTOR TO ANNOUNCE DECISION ON ZUMA GRAFT CHARGES
On 27th February, Defence Web reported that South African state prosecutors will announce in 2 weeks whether they will reinstate corruption charges against former president Jacob Zuma, according to eNCA television.
BANK HAPOALIM TO SET ASIDE ANOTHER $75 MILLION OVER US TAX INVESTIGATION
On 28th February, Reuters reported that Israel’s largest bank Bank Hapoalim will set aside an additional $75 million to cover a potential settlement in a US investigation of possible tax evasion by the bank’s clients there – provisions for the investigation now stand at $343 million.
GROWTH OF INITIAL COIN OFFERINGS SPARK MONEY LAUNDERING FEARS
The International Chamber of Commerce on 28th February reported that the publication of guidelines by Switzerland come at a time when ICO have come under intense scrutiny and some governments, such as China and South Korea, have decided to ban ICO altogether. Separately, the Government of Gibraltar and the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission (GFSC) are developing legislation relating to digitalised tokens.
NEARLY 1 IN 3 UK SME E-TAILERS FAIL TO SHIP GOODS OVERSEAS
Postal Intelligence on 28th February reported that a recent study by Royal Mail has shown that 11% of SME online retailers in the UK do not import or export goods of any kind. Of those surveyed, nearly 1 in 4 (23%) do not import goods and 30% do not export their own items. In spite of this, there is a keen appetite for exporting with almost two thirds (64%) aiming to increase international sales revenues in 2018
DHL EXPRESS OPENS FLAGSHIP SORTING CENTRE AT BRUSSELS AIRPORT
On 28th February, Postal Intelligence reported that DHL Express has opened its new €140 million regional hub at Brussels Airport in Belgium. The logistics centre is equipped with state-of-the-art sorting technology enabling it to handle up to 42,000 packages per hour, almost quadrupling its previous capacity.
MADEIRA FREE TRADE ZONE
Dixcart has issued its briefing IN519 about the Madeira Free Trade Zone, also known as the “Madeira International Business Centre”, the MIBC, was sanctioned by the EU upon Portugal’s entry into the EU, with the aim of diversifying the regional economy which was previously dependent on agriculture and tourism in the 1980’s.
NEW P&O TERMINAL COULD MAKE TILBURY A POST-BREXIT RIVAL FOR DOVER
On 27th February, Loadstar reported that a £150 million investment in a new Thames river berth could see the port of Tilbury rival Dover for short sea box and ro-ro services, post-Brexit. P&O Ferries has approved a deal with Forth Ports that will see the ferry and logistics operator move into the new berth, subject to planning permission.
DEUTSCHE BANK ALLOWS FOR $240 MILLION DEAL TO SETTLE LIBOR-RIGGING ROW IN US
On 27th February, Law 360 reported that a New York federal court was asked to give initial approval to a $240 million deal Deutsche Bank AG struck to exit litigation by investors alleging it conspired with other financial giants to manipulate the London Interbank Offer Rate (LIBOR), the third major bank to settle. The bank also agreed to provide “extensive co-operation” in producing evidence to use against the remaining defendants, which includes Bank of America NA and JP Morgan Chase Bank, according to court filings.
IRISH “BANKS” SUED OVER CHICAGO SPIRE PROJECT
On 27th February, Law 360 reported that in the bitter fight over the long-stalled Chicago Spire Irish developer Garrett Kelleher, the real estate magnate who broke ground on the tower but then lost control of it has sued 2 “bad banks” set up by the Irish government for $1.2 billion, National Asset Management Agency and its National Asset Loan Management subsidiary, blaming their “malicious conduct” for killing the grandiose project.
See also the Chicago Sun Times –
ACCUSED FRAUDSTER CLAIMS CRYPTOCURRENCIES ARE NOT SECURITIES
Law 360 on 27th February reported that Maksim Zaslavskiy, a Brooklyn businessman charged with securities fraud over 2 initial coin offerings (ICO) allegedly marketed through his companies REcoin and Diamond Reserve Club has urged a New York federal court to dismiss the government’s indictment, arguing that cryptocurrencies such as those involved in the offerings are not actually “securities” under the law.
THE YEAR OF BLOCKCHAIN: GLOBAL LEGAL FRAMEWORK BEGINS TO TAKE FORM
On 27th February, as part of its Financial Regulatory Observer for February, White & Case published a briefing saying that virtual currency and blockchain technology are becoming an important component of the global financial system, and although founded on a non-governmental philosophy, the technology is steadily gaining legitimacy. It provides a potted history and outline of developments.
A MURDERED JOURNALIST’S LAST INVESTIGATION
On 28th February, OCCRP carried an article saying that before his (and his fiancé’s) murder, Jan Kuciak had been working with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and his outlet, Aktuality.sk, on an in-depth investigation about the Italian ‘Ndrangheta, one of the world’s most powerful and fearsome criminal groups, and their infiltration into his country.
DEVELOPING THE LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE TO AN EVOLVING ISIS THREAT
In a news release on 27th February, Interpol reported that senior justice and policing officials were gathering in Washington to identify how law enforcement can meet the evolving threat of ISIS (Da’esh) as its fighters scatter across the globe. With ISIS having lost most of its territory in Iraq and Syria, the International Conference on Mobilizing Law Enforcement efforts to Defeat ISIS will seek to establish a common understanding of the depth and breadth of the threat. Proven ‘tripwires’ for identifying terrorists, including watch lists, biometric data and finance tracking will be discussed, linked to the need for this information to be shared as widely as possible
JIHAD IN TRINIDAD – THE ISIS THREAT
On 23rd February, the Oxford Research Group published an article saying that despite a well-integrated Muslim population, and an environment where there is no tangible discrimination or lack of opportunity, the Jihadist ideology has taken root in Trinidad. It reports that on 7th February, just days before Trinidad’s signature Carnival, some 13 young men – reportedly nearly all Muslim – were arrested and detained on suspicion of plotting to carry out attacks in the country. To date, only 2 people have been charged with any offence – the possession of components for an unlicensed firearm – and all others have been released. It also tells us that, on a per capita basis, Trinidad has provided the highest number of recruits to Islamic State in the Western hemisphere with numbers ranging between 35 active fighters to an upper estimate of 400 of fighters, families and administrators having flocked to the IS banner. So successful has IS been in recruiting Trinidadians that several of them, including children, were featured in an IS recruiting video made in 2015. Apparently, Trinidad’s first brush with militant Islamism came in 1990 when a failed coup occurred.
FOREIGN FIGHTERS PAST AND FOR THE FUTURE
Another article from the Oxford Research Group, on 22nd February said that a number of transnational insurgents fighting in wars has increased dramatically recently. How, it asked, are those fighting in Syria different from the foreign fighters who fought in previous jihadist wars? Examining developments since the Spanish Civil War, it concludes that the IS’s ability to attract followers with different skills and life experiences could be explained by its ideological claims of Muslim restoration. It promoted a nation-building project, restoring the unity of ummah under the Caliphate, with notable success in recruitment. It says that IS can no longer capitalise on its project after a series of defeats and territorial loses it suffered in Iraq and Syria since 2015. However, if moral outrage caused by Muslim suffering persists, effectively countering the appeal of its violent ideology will remain a difficult, long-term challenge.
PRESIDENT GHANI OFFERS UNCONDITIONAL TALKS AND LEGITIMACY TO AFGHAN TALIBAN
VOA on 28TH February reported that Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani has offered unconditional peace talks to the Taliban, as well as the chance of recognising them as a legitimate political party and withdrawing their names from international sanctions lists, if they agreed to join a peace process and give up violence.
IRAN’S SANCTIONS EVASION TRANSFERS TO ASIA
CNAS on 20th February reported a Bloomberg Politics article saying that the US effort to put Iran in a financial vice was working. European banks were paying big fines and closing off its money flows, and severe sanctions on the country’s banking and energy sectors were forcing it to the table on a nuclear deal. But Iran had found a new channel for its illicit transactions: Asia. Lenders in South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere in the region may have played a part, knowingly or otherwise, in helping Iran evade trade sanctions before the nuclear deal and turn some of its oil proceeds into US dollars, according to court testimony, legal filings and people familiar with the matter. Now that US enforcers have extracted billions of dollars from European banks over sanctions violations, the article argues that their focus is turning to Asian banks
FINLAND PLANS ‘ARCTIC CORRIDOR’ LINKING CHINA TO EUROPE
EU Observer on 28th February reports that, spurred by China’s Belt & Road Initiative, decision-makers in Finland and Norway are speeding up talks on a so-called “Arctic Corridor”. Cargo ships from Asia would off-load in Kirkenes or elsewhere in northern Norway on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, saving thousands of nautical miles as compared to the route through the Suez Canal. The ships would pick up European exports while goods from Asia would travel on rail through Finland, through a tunnel to Estonia and from there reach central Europe in record time.
EU CONSULTS ON TACKLING E-COMMERCE VAT NON-COMPLIANCE
Tax News on 28th February reports that the European Commission launched a consultation on February 27th on proposals to enhance the amount of data available to Member States and EU law enforcement bodies to better combat e-commerce VAT evasion and fraud.
UN EXPERT: SWITZERLAND MUST DO MORE TO COMBAT ‘DIRTY MONEY’
Swissinfo on 28th February reported that, despite progress in curbing illicit financial flows, Switzerland needs to do more to keep so-called ‘dirty money’ from entering its financial markets, such as tougher money laundering and tax evasion sanctions, a UN expert has declared. “In recent years the Swiss Confederation has achieved progress in curbing illicit financial flows,” Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, the UN Independent expert on foreign debt and human rights, told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
5 ARRESTED FOLLOWING SEARCH TARGETING €750,000 INVOICE DIRECTING FRAUD OPERATION IN IRELAND
On 28th February, Dublin Live reported that a number of people have been arrested following an operation in Dublin and Tipperary targeting invoice redirecting fraud that saw €750,000 stolen. It explained that invoice re-direction fraud is when a con-artist tricks a business into changing bank account payee details for a known supplier, and that the scams can result in losses that run into hundreds of thousands of euro.
BITCOIN EXCHANGE COINBASE TO COMPLY WITH IRS TAX SUMMONS
Tax News on 28th February reported that Coinbase, a virtual currency wallet and virtual currency exchange service provider, has confirmed it will soon transmit information on the transactions of 13,000 customers to the IRS, as a result of an earlier court ruling. The case follows a December 2016 summons received by the company from the IRS, which demanded that Coinbase produce a wide range of records relating to approximately 500,000 Coinbase customers, which it fought in court. After a long process, the Court issued an order providing that Coinbase should produce only certain limited categories of information from the accounts of approximately 13,000 customers.
FREE DATA RECOVERY KIT FOR VICTIMS OF GandCrab RANSOMWARE
On 28th February, Europol issued a news release saying that a new decryption tool for victims of the GandCrab ransomware is available on www.nomoreransom.org. This tool has been released by the Romanian Police (IGPR) under the supervision of the General Prosecutor’s Office (DIICOT) and in collaboration with the internet security company Bitdefender and Europol. First detected one month ago, GandCrab has already made 50 000 victims worldwide, a vast number of which in Europe, making it one of the most aggressive forms of ransomware so far this year. GandCrab spreads through malicious advertisements published on compromised websites or through fictitious invoices sent as attachments in emails. Once installed upon a victim’s computer, the ransomware encrypts the files on the infected system, offering a decryption key in return for a ransom payment of $300 – $500 in the DASH virtual currency.
SOLICITOR LOSES APPEAL AGAINST ORDER TO GIVE EVIDENCE ON RUSSIAN CLIENT’S ASSETS AND NOT TIP HIM OFF ABOUT IT
On 28th February, Legal Futures reported on a Court of Appeal ruling affecting Anthony David Kerman, a long-time adviser to Russian businessman, Farkhad Akhmedov, who in 2016 was ordered to pay his wife £453 million in what is believed to be the largest ever divorce settlement in the UK. Kerman said he was retained “on general terms” by Mr Akhmedov and his companies, but not specifically on the divorce. He was asked about his role in arranging insurance for a £90 million modern art collection that Mr Akhmedov had been ordered to transfer to his wife, and also about the assets in a Panamanian company that held around $890 million of the money paid to Mr Akhmedov for his shares in a Russian energy company – representing the majority of his fortune, and his claim of privilege was rejected. The solicitor was made subject to an order requiring him to produce relevant documents and also not to disclose anything about the events to anyone but his own lawyer. The original trial judge had inferred that Mr Akhmedov was trying to hide his assets. He also made a without-notice worldwide freezing order. The Court of Appeal has now ruled that Kerman was not asked about his dealings with or advice to his clients, but instead about matters of fact, and in any case the information sought from Mr Kerman related to communications with third parties.
SWEDISH ARMS EXPORTS TOPPED $1.38 BILLION LAST YEAR
The Local on 26th February reported that Swedish military exports rose by 2% last year, inflated by the sale of fighter jets to Brazil. But critics say the most worrying trend is that Sweden continues to sell to non-democratic states. Exports of military equipment came to a total of $1.38 billion in 2017. More than 80% came from sales to other EU or EEA countries, Canada, South Korea, the US and Brazil, with Brazil, India and the US the top 3 countries.
US E-PASSPORTS “NOT BEING VERIFIED”
KYC 360 on 28th February reported that US border control agents have not been using the right software to verify e-passports for more than a decade, 2 US senators have claimed and have asked US customs officials to start properly authenticating e-passports. If data on smart chips cannot be checked, it is not possible to tell if it has been tampered with, they say. The US was one of the first countries in the world to adopt e-passports, and travellers from countries on the visa waiver list are now required to enter the country using e-passports, which speed up the time needed to process individuals in border control. However, the senators say that US Customs and Border Protection has never used the anti-forgery and anti-tamper security measures it required to be built into e-passport smart chips because it doesn’t have the right software.
IN US, DARPA PLANS TO BUILD SENSORS, NETWORKS TO DETECT CBRNE THREATS IN REAL TIME
On 22nd February, Homeland Preparedness reported that the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced plans to develop new sensors and networks that are capable of detecting chemical, biological and explosives threats in real time, which will alert authorities immediately. The new SIGMA+ sensors will also be capable of detecting biological threats like anthrax, smallpox or plague viruses in real time by providing continuous monitoring of pathogen background levels. And new environmental and biochemical sensing methods could make the system 10 times more sensitive. DARPA’s SIGMA programme currently detects radiological and nuclear materials. However, emerging technologies like 3D printing, small-scale chemical reactors for pharmaceuticals and gene manipulation tools have created new national security challenges.
The goal of the SIGMA programme, which began in 2014, was to develop and test low-cost, high-efficiency radiation sensors that detect gamma and neutron radiation and to network them via smartphones. This would provide a distributed detection network that would provide city, state, and federal officials with real-time awareness of potential nuclear and radiological threats such as dirty bombs. For approximately 7 months starting in July 2016, the fleet of Fire and Emergency Medical Services ambulances was outfitted with the DARPA-developed nuclear and radiological detectors, providing the first city-scale, dynamic, real-time map of background radiation levels throughout Washington DC as well as identifying any unusual spikes that could indicate a threat.
For more on SIGMA see –
GIBRALTAR’S “ROCK TOKENS” SNAPPED UP
The Gibraltar Chronicle reported on 28th February that “RockToken”, the Gibraltar Blockchain Exchange’s (GBX) successful issue – and Gibraltar’s first step into the cyber-world that can be measured in terms of a fiat currency – will be ‘live to trade’ from 5th March. This follows the successful launch of $27 million of the cyber-coin which began in December last year.
GAO RECOMMENDS MEASURES TO PREVENT COUNTERFEIT GOODS FROM ENTERING US
On 28th February, Homeland Preparedness reported that the US Government Accountability Office has said that counterfeit goods entering the US pose challenges for consumers and businesses that need to be addressed by federal agencies that enforce intellectual property rights. The GAO (which performs a similar role to the National Audit Office in the UK) has recommended that that CBP take steps to evaluate the effectiveness of its enforcement efforts, and develop a process to assess and share information on port-led initiatives. As representatives from the private sector say restrictions on US Customs & Border Protection’s (CBP) information-sharing limit private sector enforcement efforts, GAO also recommends that CBP, in consultation with ICE, should assess what, if any, additional information would be beneficial to share with the private sector. CBP should also take action to enhance information-sharing by, for example, proposing regulatory revisions or requesting additional legal authorities from Congress. The CBP has agreed with these recommendations.
US ENERGY COMPANY SUES FORMER VENEZUELA GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS FOR BRIBERY-RELATED CONDUCT
On 28th February, Buckley Sandler reported that Harvest Natural Resources and HNR Energia B.V, a Houston-based energy corporation that formally dissolved in May 2017, was suing 2 former presidents of Venezuela’s national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) and others, alleging that twice a Venezuelan ministry refused to allow Harvest to sell energy assets co-owned with PDVSA because Harvest refused to pay bribes requested by the defendants.
6 COUNTER-TERRORISM LESSONS FROM THE SYRIAN CIVIL WAR
On 27th February, the Brookings Institute, a non-profit public policy organisation based in Washington, DC, published an article detailing about 6 lessons it had identified in the nearly 7-year civil war –
- Civil wars and terrorism go together – Afghanistan, Algeria, Chechnya, Iraq, Lebanon Somalia, and Yemen are examples of other conflicts that have birthed new terrorist groups or allowed existing ones to get stronger;
- Enemies are often highly divided – IS began as a split within Jabhat al-Nusra, with al-Qaida-loyal leaders in Syria fighting with those loyal to al-Qaida’s supposed affiliate in Iraq. IS itself fought against a range of other Islamist groups in Syria, some of which overlapped ideologically with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organisation. This infighting disillusioned at least some members and weakened the movement as a whole;
- Terrorists still rely on states – many of the terrorist groups in Syria—seemingly non-state actors—depend heavily on the policies of states for their success;
- Counter-terrorism brings people together, but often only tactically – although most parties are unwilling to admit it, Iran, Hezbollah, and various Iraqi Shiite groups all are on the same side as the US, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel when it came to fighting the Islamic State;
- Allies need co-ordination – the traditional US role, is more needed than ever, but the US at first neglected the Syrian conflict but then tried to build a broad coalition against IS without devising a broader policy toward the Syrian conflict as a whole; and
- Don’t rely on training programmes – the US performed poorly on one key counterterrorism task: building up local allies. Despite years of training and billions of dollars, Iraqi forces fled much smaller and lightly armed ISforces when the latter swept through the west of the country in 2014.
The article concludes by saying that Syria was not Iraq, Iraq was not Afghanistan, and the next conflict involving global terrorist groups will be a different one entirely. But if the US can learn the above lessons, it might do better the next time around—or at least avoid doing far worse.
JIHADIST MILITANCY IN BANGLADESH
On 28th February, the International Crisis Group published an article saying that, with political polarisation reaching historic highs and local jihadist groups forging links with transnational movements, new forms of militancy threaten security and religious tolerance in Bangladesh. It recommends that the government should reinforce the capability of law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, and build political consensus on tackling the menace. It tells us that 2 groups, Jamaat-ul Mujahideen Bangladesh and Ansarul Islam, dominate Bangladesh’s jihadist landscape today. Attacks since 2013 have targeted secular activists, intellectuals and foreigners, as well as religious and sectarian minorities; and Bangladesh’s antagonistic politics have played a part in enabling the jihadist resurgence.