In its 12 May edition, Hellenic Shipping News carried an article referring to a new study from the University of Portsmouth calls for further government oversight to curb potential illegal activity through these zones. This is in light of 8 new freeports in England which are due to enter operation in late 2021, and which are hoped to drive investment, economic opportunities and growth to those regions. However, researchers also advise that stronger regulation is needed to prevent Freeports being abused for money laundering and tax-evasion purposes. The research examined existing freeports around the world and found they are often used as tactical depots: intended as spaces to temporarily house valuable assets, such as artwork, precious metals and gems, wine collections and antiques. The study suggests that banks that facilitate numerous international trade transactions need to be more alert to illicit trading and should be responsible for carrying out proper due diligence around freeport trade. It says that although governments have recognised the threat that freeports present by ensuring they fall within the scope of AML control, there is still opportunity for freeports to operate without transparency.
A news release from Europol on 11 May advised that it had supported the Italian Carabinieri and the Spanish National Police in dismantling an organised crime group involved in the online sale of illegal food supplements containing active medical ingredients. In 2019, NAS Carabinieri detected some food supplements, allegedly made of natural ingredients, which actually contained the pharmaceutical ingredients sildenafil and tadalafil. The product, recommended for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, was sold on a well-known e-commerce platform. The Spanish investigation followed the supply chain and identified that the company was registered in the UK, while the main perpetrators were operating from Spain. Officers carried out 12 house searches in Spain and Italy and blocked 17 websites. The final results of the operational activities include 8 arrests (in Spain), the seizures of 32,500 packages of food supplements (both in Spain and Italy) and the freezing of 21 bank accounts containing a total of €3.5 million.
On 11 May, OFAC advised that 7 Lebanese individuals to its SDN list. In addition, the entry for Vladimir Nikolaevich PAVLENKO, Minister of State Security of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, has been amended. 9 individuals and 5 entities on the Syrian sanctions lists have been deleted. The Lebanese names are sanctioned for their involvement in connection with Hizballah and its financial firm, Al-Qard al-Hassan (AQAH). AQAH, which was designated by OFAC in 2007, and is used by Hizballah as a cover to manage the terrorist group’s financial activities and gain access to the international financial system. Others are designated for having used the cover of personal accounts at certain Lebanese banks, including US-designated Jammal Trust Bank (JTB), to evade sanctions.
On 10 May, Insight Crime carried an article saying that millions of dollars in state funds were allegedly laundered through a religious non-profit in the Dominican Republic, showing how minimal oversight of these faith groups makes them ideal vehicles for embezzlement. On May 10, security officials, a pastor and others suspected in the scheme were placed in detention or under house arrest for 18 months as part of an ongoing investigation into charges of money laundering, falsifying public documents, fraud, and other offenses. Involved is the Mother Earth Farmers Association (Asociación Campesina Madre Tierra), a non-profit organisation he formed in 2015 to foster Christian values through community farming. The article says that there are several factors that make churches and religious non-governmental organisations ideal fronts for laundering money. The entities tend to have diverse income streams that can be tricky to trace, collecting cash donations and also receiving bank transfers. It is said that, in the Dominican Republic, “religious leaders are not required to have any formal affiliation or certification to verify their membership in a church”.
On 10 May, Balkan Insight reported that the money to be made by ‘fixers’, ‘gatekeepers’ and ‘package dealers’ smuggling migrants across borders in the Western Balkans are detailed in a new report from the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime. The report assesses the money being made by smugglers in the 3 key smuggling zones in the Western Balkans – the borders between Greece’s borders with North Macedonia and Albania; the border between Bosnia-Herzegovina and the EU in Croatia in Croatia, and Serbia’s borders with Hungary and Romania. The report identifies various types of smugglers present in the Western Balkans, describing them as fixers, gatekeepers and package dealers – fixers, who arrange transport, “usually operate within the borders of one country”; people who operate around borders and charge for “safe passage” are described as gatekeepers; and the big money from migrant-smuggling is made through ‘package deals’.