$160m Kiwi cannabis export deal to US

New Zealand’s only large scale medicinal cannabis grower has inked a $160 million conditional deal to supply a United States manufacturer.

Under the deal Ruatoria-based Hikurangi Cannabis will send three tonnes of cannabidiol extracts, THC extracts and whole cannabis flowers to Seattle-based cannabis brokerage company Rhizo Sciences next year and up to 12 tonnes by 2021.

Hikurangi has a crop of 5000 plants. Rhizo also has suppliers in Africa, Europe, Australia and North America.

The deal is conditional on Parliament passing Labour’s medicinal cannabis Bill into law.

That will allow Hikurangi to grow and export medicinal  cannabis commercially.Hikurangi managing director Manu Caddie said the deal would help the company “press home the importance of allowing medical cannabis to be exported” in its submission to the select committee considering the Bill in March.

He said he was confident the Government would accept a law change to allow cannabis to become a significant export.

New Zealand-grown medicinal cannabis’ potential export value was comparable to kiwifruit and dairy, he said.

“There is huge scope for New Zealand to produce the highest quality medical product in a global sector expected to reach US$60 billion (NZ$82b) within five years.”

Hikurangi operates legally with an industrial hemp licence that allows it to extract cannabinoids from cannabis plants for research and development purposes. It is not allowed to sell a commercial crop.

Hikurangi and Rhizo announced in January their plan to open a facility in New Zealand this year to manufacture THC-free medicinal cannabis products.

Hikurangi plans to launch a $2m crowdfunding campaign in March. It is also seeking another $4m from a single investor.

 – Stuff







How much tax revenue could the UK generate from legalising cannabis?

Well, we don’t actually know yet!


Marijuana legalization could inject over $130 billion into US tax coffers by 2025 — if the Trump administration stays hands-off!

A report from New Frontier Data estimates the cannabis industry could generate $131.8 billion in federal tax revenue and add 1.1 million jobs by 2025 if it’s legalized for adult use in all 50 states.

If the US were to legalize cannabis federally today, it would add 782,000 jobs to the economy, according to the study.

The country could be leaving billions in tax revenue on the table if it keeps the status quo patchwork of state laws , rather than coherent federal regulations.

Marijuana legalization could create $132 billion in federal tax revenue and inject over a million jobs into the US labor market by 2025 if it becomes legal nationwide, a new study says.

The study, from cannabis industry analytics firm New Frontier Data, seeks to estimate the total economic impact of the nascent industry. Cannabis is legal in eight states, including California, which legalized recreational sales on January 1. Vermont is likely to join that list once Gov. Phil Scott signs a bill legalizing the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana into law.

The study assumes the tax revenue, which will add $131.8 billion cumulatively to the US Treasury by 2025, will come from a 15% retail tax, payroll tax deductions, and a 35% business tax. Sales tax alone on cannabis would add $51.7 billion to US coffers between 2017 and 2025.

While commercial cannabis markets are up-and-running in eight states, the federal government can’t collect any taxes on the industry since cannabis is considered an illegal, Schedule I drug. That means cannabis would be an entirely new revenue source for the US government.

“If cannabis businesses were legalized tomorrow and taxed as normal businesses with a standard 35 percent tax rate, cannabis businesses would infuse the U.S. economy with an additional $12.6 billion this year,” New Frontier’s CEO, Giadha Aguirre De Carcer said in a statement.

New Frontier’s estimates rely on a theoretical model where cannabis is legalized in all 50 states, and Congress creates a structure for the federal government to collect taxes on the industry. The difference between that model and the current patchwork of state laws is $76.8 billion in revenue.

In other words, the federal government will leave over $75 billion on the table, if it doesn’t legalize the drug, according to New Frontier. That echoes a report from ArcView Market Research, which predicts the entire legal cannabis market to reach $24.5 billion in sales — representing a 21% growth rate — by 2021.

If legalized in all 50 states, cannabis would immediately add 782,000 jobs to the US economy. That number would increase to 1.1 million by 2025. To put that number in perspective, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the total US labor force to increase by 10.5 million people in the next decade.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a noted cannabis opponent, rescinded Obama-era rulesdirecting the Justice Department to keep its hands off of state-legal cannabis businesses earlier this month, which may put the industry’s future in jeopardy. A growing chorus of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle blasted Sessions’ move, though the cannabis industry was unperturbed.

Public opinion seems to be on the cannabis industry’s side. Some 58% of voters said in a Quinnipiac poll on Thursday that marijuana should be legal, and 70% of voters oppose enforcing federal laws in states that have made marijuana legal.

Jeremy Burke, author. Jeremy is a reporter on Business Insider’s Science team, where he covers energy, sustainability, and cannabis. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 2014 with a degree in Earth and Oceanographic Science, and previously wrote for Atlas Obscura. Jeremy was born in Toronto and is based in Brooklyn. 

Original Business Insider Article can be read here.

Russians, Bribes and Spies Raise the Scandal Bar for EU Banking.

Latvia’s Rimsevics Regrets Not Reporting a ‘Hinted’ Bribe

Even for a country long accused of funneling dirty Russian funds into the European Union, Latvia’s latest banking scandal is a doozy.

Just days after the U.S. threatened to penalize Latvia’s third-biggest lender for having “institutionalized money laundering,” including for clients linked to North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program, authorities in Riga detained veteran central bank Governor Ilmars Rimsevics on suspicion of bribe-taking.

Hours later, after Rimsevics’s two-day detention ended, the drama deepened with the publication of an Associated Press investigation that suggested he’s a target of Russia’s security services. As a member of the European Central Bank’s governing council, Rimsevics is privy to market-moving decisions, as the AP noted, and he’s also a senior official in a former Soviet state that angered Moscow by joining NATO.

Under fire from multiple sides, Rimsevics quickly summoned reporters Tuesday to deny wrongdoing, accuse banks of conspiring against him and declare himself the victim of a death threat designed to destabilize Latvia. Premier Maris Kucinskis thickened the plot shortly after by urging Rimsevics to resign—while also disparaging the bank Norvik and its Russian owner Grigory Guselnikov for publicly accusing Rimsevics of demanding a bribe without producing evidence.

Then the Defense Ministry weighed in with what amounted to a national-security alert that all but accused Russia of a disinformation attack it called “identical” to those seen in the U.S., France and Germany. President Raimonds Vejonis followed with a warning of his own, saying Latvia is locked in a “hybrid war” and that Rimsevics should step down for the sake of the financial system.

Rimsevics dug in Thursday, telling Bloomberg Television that he won’t step down, even temporarily. He denied ever accepting an illegal payment, though he said he regretted not reporting the “hint” of a bribe in the past.

“I’m not a friend of the banking system in this country,” Rimsevics said in his lawyer’s office in central Riga. The ECB, whose council met Wednesday without Rimsevics, its Latvian representative, has yet to comment.

With Vladimir Putin and his lieutenants once again at the hazy center of a geopolitical storm, the Kremlin responded with a characteristic shrug: “This is an internal political matter for our Latvian comrades,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “We wouldn’t want to get involved.”

As the murky events engulfing this Baltic outpost unfold, officials in Riga point to tighter rules, record fines and annual checks for banks with foreign clients as progress in their efforts to shed the country’s reputation as a laundering center. The amount of dollars banks handle has fallen by two-thirds, from $221 billion in 2014 to $76 billion last year, mainly because major counterparties like Deutsche Bank AG closed their Latvian dollar accounts. Foreign deposits in Latvia have fallen by a third in the last two years and the finance minister expects another 50 percent decline over the next few years.

A country of just 2 million bordering four other former Soviet republics—Russia, Belarus, Lithuania and Estonia—Latvia emerged as a trusted conduit of dollar flows westward after the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, which triggered the equally sudden emergence of legions of millionaires. Like Cyprus—an even bigger mover of Russian funds—Latvia is a regional banking hub on the fringes of the EU with a large Russian-speaking population.

From 1996 to early 2005—the year after Latvia joined both the EU and NATO, the U.S. Treasury identified Russia and Latvia as major violators of anti-money-laundering laws. Of the 1,002 so-called suspicious activity reports it received on U.S. shell companies in the period, 504 involved banks in Russia and 449 in Latvia that together handled $18 billion of illicit transfers.

In 2005, Latvia’s oldest commercial lender, Multibanka, and VEF became two of the few institutions to be blacklisted by the U.S. as a “primary money-laundering concern” under a measure of the 2001 Patriot Act that gives Treasury the power to ban lenders from the U.S. system through which all dollar transfers must pass. Multibanka was later bought by a Russian lender controlled by the Rotenberg brothers, Putin’s old friends from St. Petersburg who are both sanctioned by the U.S. over Ukraine along with their bank.

“Russian money will always try to find the easiest way out and that means the Baltics will always be an attractive channel,” said Aivar Paul, a former head of Estonia’s financial police who’s now an executive at LHV bank in Tallinn. “How many EU countries offer extensive banking services in Russian?”

Three years later, a Treasury delegation flew to Riga to discuss with Latvian officials Iranian efforts to circumvent penalties imposed over its nuclear program through Krajbanka, according to a classified cable from the U.S. embassy and released by Wikileaks. Krajbanka eventually collapsed amid fraud allegations. It was one of several domestic banks involved in a case where $1.6 billion went missing from lenders owned by a Russian investor.

From 2011 to 2014, Latvian banks helped shift illicit cash out of Russia in a $20 billion scheme the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which uncovered it, dubbed “The Russian Laundromat.”

“You get the feeling the authorities are scared of the banks in Latvia, not vice versa,” said Bill Browder, a fund manager whose lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in a Moscow prison after alleging a $230 million tax fraud by officials. The Hermitage Capital Management founder said much of those funds were laundered via Latvian banks. “There was never any interest in pursuing laundering charges, even when we brought them a case on a platter,” he said.

Trasta Komercbanka had its license pulled by the ECB two years ago for breaching regulatory requirements. And last year, a Paris court fined another Latvian lender, Rietumu, a record 80 million euros for helping clients of a French company evade taxes. The bank, which denies wrongdoing and is appealing the decision, once counted former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov—the husband of Russia’s first woman billionaire—among its investors.

Two weeks after the French ruling, Rietumu became the fifth Latvian bank to reach a settlement with local regulators over involvement in attempts to circumvent sanctions on North Korea. Another lender fined over North Korea at the same time, Norvik, is the one now accusing Rimsevics, the central bank governor, of demanding 100,000 euros a month in bribes.

“For 25 years, Rimsevics controlled everything,” Guselnikov, the Norvik owner, said by phone from London. “He and his team are unmovable. He’s been in charge of supervision since 1992 and all his employees have been there since the 1990s or 2000 and they owe him their careers and positions.”

Since the North Korean fine, Guselnikov, who’s also a British citizen, has lured two western security experts to Norvik’s board: former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and former German foreign intelligence chief August Hanning. Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA’s counter-terrorism center, is also a director of a Latvian lender, Baltic International Bank.

One bank that escaped fines in the North Korea probe, ABLV, is the lender the U.S. designated a “primary money-laundering concern” last week, just the 18th time Treasury has invoked clause 311 of the Patriot Act. The ECB instructed Latvia to impose a payment moratorium on the bank after clients withdrew about 600 million euros in deposits and securities. ABLV denied the charges, said it’s taken steps to prevent laundering and pledged to work with U.S. officials.

“In money-laundering centers like Latvia there’s a sense their hands aren’t really dirty,” said Mark Galeotti, a fellow at the Institute of International Relations in Prague who tracks Russian organized crime. “The money just passes through and earns fees. You could argue the true laundering capitals are London and Frankfurt, but money arrives there pre-washed.”

Original Bloomberg Article here:

Germany: Muslim Biker Gang Vows to “Protect” Fellow Muslims.



Police warn of spiraling vigilantism, parallel Islamic legal system

  • Muslim vigilantes enforcing Islamic justice have become increasingly common in Germany. The government’s inability or unwillingness to stop them has led to the rise of anti-Muslim counter-vigilantes. Germany’s BfV intelligence agency, in its latest annual report, warned that an escalating action-reaction cycle could result in open warfare on German streets.
  • The self-appointed “Sharia Police” urged both Muslim and non-Muslim passersby to attend mosques and to refrain from alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling, music, pornography and prostitution. In November 2016, the Wuppertal District Court ruled that the Islamists did not break German law and were simply exercising their right to free speech. The ruling, which effectively legitimized Sharia law in Germany, was one of a growing number of instances in which German courts are — wittingly or unwittingly — promoting the establishment of a parallel Islamic legal system in the country.
  • “Even if we still refuse to believe it: Parts of Germany are ruled by Islamic law! Polygamy, child marriages, Sharia judges — for far too long the German rule of law has not been enforced. Many politicians dreamed of multiculturalism…. This is not a question of folklore or foreign customs and traditions. It is a question of law and order. If the rule of law fails to establish its authority and demand respect for itself, then it can immediately declare its bankruptcy.” — Franz Solms-Laubach, parliamentary correspondent, Bild.

German Muslims have established a self-styled biker gang — modelled on the Hells Angels — aimed at protecting fellow Muslims from the “ever-growing hatred of Islam,” according to Die Welt.

The emergence of the group, which aspires to open chapters in cities and towns across Germany, has alarmed German authorities, who have warned against the growing threat of vigilantism in the country.

Muslim vigilantes enforcing Islamic justice have become increasingly common in Germany. The government’s inability or unwillingness to stop them has led to the rise of anti-Muslim counter-vigilantes. Germany’s BfV intelligence agency, in its latest annual report, warned that an escalating action-reaction cycle could result in open warfare on German streets.

The gang, which calls itself “Germanys Muslims” (the possessive apostrophe is not used in German), is based in Mönchengladbach and now has offshoots in Münster and Stuttgart. It was founded by Marcel Kunst, a German convert to Islam who also uses the name Mahmud Salam.

The gang’s uniform consists of a black leather jacket with a logo depicting a one-fingered salute, the “Finger of Tawheed,” which represents belief in the oneness of Allah. The logo also includes the number 1438, which represents the current year in the Muslim calendar, as well as the number 713, which stands for GM (Germanys Muslims), the seventh and thirteenth letters of the alphabet.

Police say they do not know how many people belong to the gang, which was established in May. The group’s Facebook page, which has more than a thousand followers, describes itself as a “citizens’ initiative” which advocates for the “peaceful coexistence between Muslims and non-Muslims in Germany.” A mission statement dated June 15 reads:

“Our organization has been founded for only one purpose: To protect and support our brothers and sisters from the ever-growing hatred of Islam!!! To all non-Muslims who read this post, pay attention. The following could change your perception of us!!! We respect every religion and, as dictated by the Quran, do not force our faith on anyone!!! We do not sympathize with the Islamic State and are against compulsion in faith and in marriage!!! ISLAM DOES NOT RECOGNIZE HONOR KILLINGS AS IS OFTEN SUPPOSED!!! The raised finger in our logo is not from the so-called Islamic State. In our faith it symbolizes that there is only one God!!! We have summarized 40 commandments from the Quran for you….IMPORTANT. Whoever gets into a fight on the road or elsewhere (except for self-defense) will be expelled from our group without further discussion!!!”

Although “Germanys Muslims” claims to disavow violence, police say that several of its senior members are known to be Salafists, whose aim is to replace liberal democracy in Germany with Sharia law. One of its members, for instance, was detained as a security precaution during the Tour de France, which passed through Mönchengladbach on July 2.

German police describe the group’s founder, Kunst, as an “Islamist who moves in Salafist circles.” In a video that is no longer available, Kunst called on the group’s members to protect mosques and Muslim women.

In a July 27 interview with Die Welt, Isabella Hannen, spokeswoman for the Mönchengladbach Police Department, revealed that police met with Kunst on July 5 and warned him that “vigilantism will not be tolerated.” They also stressed that the monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force (Gewaltmonopol) is the exclusive domain of the state. On July 28, “Germanys Muslims” issued a statement saying that the group respects the authority of the state. “So far, we have no evidence that they are a danger, but we are keeping our eyes on them,” Hannen said.


In its annual report released on July 4, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), said that Salafism is the “fastest-growing Islamic movement in Germany.” The report revealed that the number of Salafists in Germany jumped to 9,700 in 2016, up from 8,350 in 2015; 7,000 in 2014; 5,500 in 2013; 4,500 in 2012; and 3,800 in 2011. According to the BfV:

“Salafists are seeking to impose a theocracy based on their interpretation of the Sharia and in which the liberal democratic order no longer applies. Political and jihadist Salafists share the same basic ideology. They differ primarily in the means by which they wish to achieve their objectives…. Nevertheless, it should be noted that political Salafism has an ambivalent relationship to violence… it does not always prohibit religiously-sanctioned violence.”

A previous BfV report stated:

“The absolutist nature of Salafism contradicts significant parts of the German constitutional order. Specifically, Salafism rejects the democratic principles of separation of state and religion, popular sovereignty, religious and sexual self-determination, gender equality and the fundamental right to physical integrity.”

The BfV also warned of the danger of civil unrest:

“The potential threat posed by Salafist violence remains dangerously high. Salafist violence could create an additional dynamic through interactions with extremist groups from other ‘hostile’ ideological camps, as already occurred in individual cases in the past.”

The BfV was referring to an alliance between hooligans from rival football clubs who temporarily set aside their mutual hatred for each other in order to unite against a common enemy: radical Salafists. At one point, the grouping, known as Hooligans versus Salafists (HoGeSa), had more than 40,000 followers on its Facebook page before it was shut down by Facebook censors.

According to some commentators, the rise of HoGeSa was fueled in part by a growing sense of frustration that the German government is not doing enough to curb the spread of Islam in the country. Others said the group was incited by the Salafists’ increasingly provocative support for replacing Germany’s democratic order with Islamic law.

In Wuppertal, for example, seven self-appointed “Sharia Police” sparked public outrage when they distributed yellow leaflets which established a “Sharia-controlled zone” in the Elberfeld district of the city. The vigilantes urged both Muslim and non-Muslim passersby to attend mosques and to refrain from alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, gambling, music, pornography and prostitution.

In November 2016, however, the Wuppertal District Court ruled that the Islamists did not break German law and were simply exercising their right to free speech. The ruling, which effectively legitimized Sharia law in Germany, was one of a growing number of instances in which German courts are — wittingly or unwittingly — promoting the establishment of a parallel Islamic legal system in the country.

In Berlin, a hundred Islamists are now openly enforcing Sharia law on city streets, according to local police who are investigating a recent string of violent assaults in the German capital. The self-appointed morality police involve Salafists from Chechnya, a predominantly Sunni Muslim region in Russia. The vigilantes are using threats of violence to discourage Chechen migrants from integrating into German society; they are also promoting the establishment of a parallel Islamic legal system in Germany. German authorities appear unable to stop them.

Bild, the largest-circulation newspaper in Germany, recently warned that the country was “capitulating to Islamic law.” In a special “Sharia Report” it stated:

“The 2013 coalition agreement between the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats promised: ‘We want to strengthen the state’s legal monopoly. We will not tolerate illegal parallel justice.’ But nothing has been done.”

In a commentary, Franz Solms-Laubach, Bild’s parliamentary correspondent, wrote:

“Even if we still refuse to believe it: Parts of Germany are ruled by Islamic law! Polygamy, child marriages, Sharia judges — for far too long the German rule of law has not been enforced. Many politicians dreamed of multiculturalism…. This is not a question of folklore or foreign customs and traditions. It is a question of law and order. If the rule of law fails to establish its authority and demand respect for itself, then it can immediately declare its bankruptcy.”

Meanwhile, German authorities have been fighting an uphill battle against an extremely violent “rocker” gang, the “Osmanen Germania” — “Ottoman Germania” — which consists mostly of Turkish Germans and, like the “Germanys Muslims” gang, is modeled on the Hells Angels.

The “Ottoman Germania” group, which claims to be a boxing club concerned about the welfare of young people, was founded after Hells Angels decided to allow non-Turkish migrants to join. Police say “Ottoman Germania” is an effort by former Turkish German members of the Hells Angels to protect their market share of organized crime.

The “Ottoman Germania” group is one of the fastest-growing gangs in Germany. Within months of its founding in April 2015, the group had established dozens of chapters across the country. Today the group, which profits from prostitution, extortion and the trafficking of weapons and drugs, operates across Europe, despite repeated police raids.

German authorities believe the “Ottoman Germania” is close to the Turkish government, which uses the group to fight Turkey’s internal political struggles in Germany. Police say the gang also cooperates with Germany’s Salafists.

Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute.

*Image courtesy of AmericanNews.com

Brutal Mexican cartel forms pact to flood UK with drugs.

One of Mexico’s most infamous cartels has formed an alliance with Romanian gangsters to bring cocaine into the UK, The Times can reveal.

July 24 2017, 12:01am, The Times


A European syndicate of the sadistic Sinaloa cartel, notorious for mass decapitations and brutal torture, is working with a Romanian gang running heavy goods vehicles in an effort to seize a share of Britain’s lucrative cocaine market.

The Romanian gang, supplied by the cartel, has the capacity to bring large amounts of cocaine to the UK on a weekly basis using HGVs, the National Crime Agency warned.

Longstanding links between British gangs and Central American cartels have focused on Liverpool and its docks, where container ships bring in vast quantities of cocaine, principally from Venezuela and Ecuador. Ferries bringing in freight vehicles from the Irish mainland as well as entry points including the Channel tunnel, Dover, Felixstowe, Folkestone and Harwich ports have also been used.

The Times can reveal that despite Europol warning four years ago that Mexican cartels had stepped up their presence in Europe, no member state has yet asked the agency for help in tackling the problem.

The previously unreported involvement of the brutal Sinaloa cartel will raise concerns about the impact the group will have on the increasingly violent British drugs trade, which has driven a rise in gun crime and involved children as young as 12 being used as mules to deliver drugs from the cities to rural areas.

The group’s leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera — known simply as El Chapo (or Shorty, due to his height), has twice escaped from maximum security prisons in Mexico.

El Chapo has presided over a series of massacres including the slaughter of 35 innocent men and women whose bodies were left strewn along a motorway in Boca del Rio, on the east coast just south of Mexico City in 2011. His gang has also dismembered and decapitated scores of rival gang members.

The gang’s new alliance with the unnamed Romanian gang will raise concerns about border security at the Channel tunnel and ferry routes on to the British mainland, where freight lorries pour into the country.

A spokeswoman for the NCA’s drug threat team said: “In collaboration with international partners [we] identified a Romanian OCG [organised crime group] with the capability to import large amounts of cocaine into the UK on a weekly basis using HGV transport.

“Intelligence indicates that the Romanian OCG are still being supplied by a Mexican OCG linked to the Sinaloa cartel. It is assessed that this network of OCGs will continue to supply large volumes of class A drugs into the UK.

“Previous significant interdictions of their supply has not deterred the group from continuing their criminal activity aimed at the UK market.”

As much as 100 tonnes of cocaine is shipped to the UK each year but the majority is intercepted by law enforcement agencies. The NCA has seized nearly 70 tonnes in a single year.

The NCA, known as Britain’s FBI, added that the Sinaloa cartel was often described as the largest and most powerful cartel in the western hemisphere and said that there was a dearth of available intelligence on Mexican cartels moving cocaine into the UK market. The agency believes, however, that “they have proactively sought a position due to the high prices for cocaine in the UK and an opportunity to maximise profits”.

Previous investigations into links between UK-based gangs and their Mexican counterparts showed that British criminals either travelled to or based themselves in Mexico to oversee the supply and transportation of the drugs.

Couriers have been tracked to European airports such as Frankfurt and Brussels before travelling on to the UK, the NCA said. A number of these couriers have been intercepted at European airports with an average 4-5kg of cocaine in their possession with a street value of at least £250,000.

In 2015 corrupt staff at Heathrow were jailed for their roles in a cocaine-smuggling racket that spanned several years and involved stashing the drugs in British Airways cargo consignments from Mexico City airport.

Europol warned that Mexican cartels had moved to Europe to secure lucrative trade routes as long ago as 2013.

The Mexican Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels, which dominate cocaine smuggling from South America into Europe via ports in Venezuela, cut deals with Liverpudlian gangs for access and security for shipping containers arriving at the city’s port, Europol said. The Liverpool gangs then distributed the drugs across the country.

The three dominant Mexican cartels, with the addition of the Knights Templar, are also known to be active in Spain, whose gangs have close ties to UK drug supply.

In January two Romanian brothers were arrested smuggling 23kg of cocaine worth an estimated £1.4 million into the country hidden on a lorry. Gabriel Codita, 27, and Constantin Alin Codita, 28, were each sentenced to eight years in prison at Canterbury crown court in March.

In March 2016, a Romanian bus driver was jailed after he was caught with £18 million of cocaine in his luggage hold while bringing children on a school trip to the UK. Ioan Buciuta, 53, was caught at Dover. He was described as a “trusted courier” after he was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

Behind the story
Everywhere the Sinaloa cartel and its Mexican rivals are mentioned, their reputation for death precedes them (John Simpson writes).

“They’ll kill anyone, these Mexicans . . . they’re f***ing mad,” Paul Taylor, head of a notorious Liverpool crime syndicate, was recorded telling a co-conspirator during a £4 billion cocaine deal in 2014.

Although its leader has been extradited to the US to stop his repeated escapes from maximum security prisons in Mexico, the Sinaloa cartel is still widely regarded as the most powerful drug-trafficking organisation in the western hemisphere.

The group hails from the city of Culiacan in the state of Sinaloa on the west coast. It was created in the 1960s but rose to notoriety in the late 1980s and early 1990s when it assumed control of moving a large proportion of Colombia’s cocaine, as Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel crumbled.

Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, now 60, went from selling oranges in the street to running the multibillion-pound operation and was known to carry a gold-plated AK47 assault rifle and a gold-plated .45mm handgun. Under his leadership scores of rivals have been decapitated or killed in car bombings, their mutilated bodies left strewn along motorways. In 2010 a rival gang member was kidnapped, chopped into seven pieces and his face reportedly stitched onto a football.

El Chapo’s war with the Los Zetas cartel has been responsible for the escalation in violence and as British street gangs adopt the use of acid attacks, and with knife and gun crime rising, law enforcement agencies will be alert to the threat of Mexico’s violence and weapons following its cocaine.

Read the original article here.

Thanks for reading.

Philip Smith-Lawrence


Tackling gang culture.

Six people wearing balaclavas began firing gunshots at each other on the streets of North West London. What should have been a quiet Thursday afternoon turned into something resembling a scene out of a Hollywood movie. And, more recently, 15-year-old Quamari Barnes was killed with a knife while waiting at the bus stop outside his school. He was allegedly killed by another 15-year old who has been charged with his murder.

It was a timely reminder that gangs still cast a dark shadow over our community. Award-winning professor David Wilson said: ‘Gangs are now very much embedded in the culture in our towns and cities.’

As chair of London Borough of Brent’s Gangs Taskgroup, I have become all too familiar of the impact gangs have on local communities; some of the people I grew up with are either in prison or no longer with us – guns and gangs did that.

One study for the Home Office found that up to 6% of 10-19-year-olds belonged to a gang in England and Wales and, according to the Metropolitan Police, gangs are responsible for 16% of the total drug supply, 26% of aggravated burglaries and 14% of all types of rapes. Half of all shootings in the capital are carried out by gangs leading to a sharp rise in crimes involving firearms which last year shot-up by 13% to 5,864 offences.

And lately, the huge rise in stabbings has penetrated virtually every part of the country with 35 of the 44 police forces recording a rise in offences involving knives. The ONS reports offences that involved a knife or sharp instrument increased by 14% to 32,448 offences during the period up to December 2016.

Adding to the toxic mix is international events with my ward’s Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) Sergeant remarking that young people arriving from conflicts in Syria and Libya, traumatised by their experiences of violence and death were joining gangs with some choosing to take a more disturbing route, as was the case with the Manchester Arena bomber Salman Ramadan Abedi who went from gangs to radicalisation.

Some places have begun to fight back. Based on Boston’s Operation Ceasefire, Glasgow’s highly acclaimed Community Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) directly engaged 500 gang members and brought together partners from justice, government, community safety services, housing, careers, education, social work, health and the community to tackle the long standing problem of gang violence. The £4.5m scheme achieved a 49% reduction in gang violence from CIRV participants.

In Brent, I’m working with both national and local employers to set-up an employment and work experience programme for those who are entry-level gang members or on the periphery of joining gangs. The young people will be offered fair-paid work as well as mentors and facilities to lead healthier and more active lifestyles through engaging in sports and exercise.

This is to provide not only diversionary activities or a wraparound service for youngsters, but also a credible alternative to the ‘bling bling’ lifestyle which has manifested from our ‘X-Factor’ fueled society and obsession with ‘get rich quick’ schemes, which in the case of gangs can have life-changing consequences.

The initiatives in Brent and Glasgow are undoubtedly joined by other good examples of work being done across the country which involves the voluntary sector, the youth offending service, the police, faith groups and local statutory bodies. The efforts of those working with some of the most hard to reach young people have not gone unnoticed – these are committed people genuinely trying to make a difference. But the truth is that many of the responses have at times been uncoordinated and fragmented. This is further exacerbated by the closure of youth facilities, youth unemployment and the erosion of ‘community spirit’.

Gangs are also leveraging in brand new Nike trainers and designer clothes for gang members who have more often than not experienced family breakdowns and live chaotic lifestyles. A lack of positive role models, poor educational attainment, mental health and lack of aspirations are just some of the factors that lure young people to this violent subterranean street culture. Young women are also at risk from gangs whether it’s sexual exploitation, violence or becoming involved in criminality.

Our solution to gang culture needs to move away from a one-dimensional approach, which works solely on increasing resources.

Although this is important, increased investment in young people will achieve nothing without paying attention to other factors such as improving housing, giving better education and vocational opportunities and focusing on family support.

We need a more inclusive approach, which empowers the local community to develop youth-led initiatives. Local models can respond to local dynamics, and can be specific to the communities in which gangs operate. Local organisations can bring their own creativity and knowledge to help tackle gangs in their neighbourhoods. Many have the in-roads and sympathies of the local culture, which can help challenge the behaviour of local young people and to encourage lasting change in them. We should avoid wasting energies and empower them through mentoring, networking and promoting best-practice.

This should also be extended nationally where we encourage young people to use their skills positively. Perversely, gang members can possess an entrepreneurial drive namely, building up their ‘gang business through clever branding and slick You Tube music videos. We should develop innovative schemes to provide business ‘start-up’ funding for young people who could be at risk of joining gangs to help them achieve their real potential.

Moreover, we should have wider apprenticeship opportunities whereby those that display the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ are given opportunities to work in sectors such as banking and finance to make better use of their abilities. Britain is home to some of the largest international corporations. Our young people should be given the opportunities to be apprentices at some of the largest companies in the world. And with local authorities collecting over £100m from the community infrastructure levy from developers building new homes, maybe some that funding should go towards building the future of our young people.

We are at a tipping point, do we accept gangs and gang culture or do we together as a community say enough is enough.

Cllr. Zaffar Van Kalwala is chair of London Borough of Brent’s Gangs Taskgroup

This feature first appeared in Local Government News magazine.

Original article here.

Italian border town of Ventimiglia loses patience with migrants from Libya.

July 22 2017, 12:01am, The Times
“After two years of handing out blankets, we are tired,” Mr Amarella, 63, who runs the local residents’ association, said. “There’s too many of them, and this is no longer a welcome — their human rights are being trampled on.”

A low wall separates Ventimiglia’s working-class neighbourhood from the banks of the river Roia, where in summer the waters recede to a sluggish trickle, leaving a wide expanse of stony riverbed and bushes.

Sitting on the wall, Mario Amarella gazed out at the hundreds of African migrants spread out across the stones, sleeping, praying, washing and waiting for smugglers they hope will take them into France, three miles away.

“After two years of handing out blankets, we are tired,” Mr Amarella, 63, who runs the local residents’ association, said. “There’s too many of them, and this is no longer a welcome — their human rights are being trampled on.”

Hundreds of migrants arrive in Ventimiglia every week in an attempt to reach France after sailing from Libya, but of those who make it across the border, 25,000 have been sent back by French police since the start of last year after being turfed off trains or rounded up on mountain paths.

That has turned the town into Italy’s Calais and made it the focus of a growing reluctance up and down the country to look after the 200,000 migrants now packed into reception centres since the arrival of 181,000 last year and more than 90,000 this year.

At Mr Amarella’s neighbourhood church, fewer local residents are showing up since the priest followed the Pope’s advice to care for migrants and started feeding and sheltering African families, single women and small children. This week, as dozens of migrants sat in the church’s car park, three elderly Italians attended a service inside.

“I don’t see an alternative to the migrants being here,” Father Rito Julio Alvarez, who is Colombian, said. “Some of the women we put up have been trafficked and we are trying to free them from prostitution.”


The town’s mayor does not agree, and is trying to transfer the women into a Red Cross-run camp between a railway goods yard and a flyover on the edge of town. Already home to nearly 500 migrants, mostly Sudanese, the site offers camp-beds under the flyover for the overflow.

“Three years ago, when migrants arrived on the train, locals were turning out to give them food and clothes,” Enrico Ioculano, the centre-left mayor, said. “But now people are stressed out and the smallest spark could provoke a reaction, whether it’s someone dropping litter or crossing the road in the wrong place. I want to avoid violence.”

He added: “The church doesn’t always understand that if you break the relationship between the migrants and the community, it’s hard to repair it.”

At the other end of Italy, the mayor of the Sicilian village of Castell’Umberto took matters into his own hands this month, erecting a barricade to stop electricians providing power to a hotel just as 50 migrants were housed there after being rescued off the Libyan coast.

Sicily’s enduring acceptance of newcomers may be further tested this autumn if the Five Star Movement steps up its attacks on migration as it campaigns to win the election in November for governor of the island.

Antonio Decaro, mayor of Bari and the head of Italy’s association of mayors, said that the mood was shifting among mayors across the country who have agreed to host migrants, only to see that many others have refused.

“The government has told us they will send us three migrants for every 1,000 residents, which means Cona near Venice, a town of 3,000, should have received nine. Instead they got 1,400,” he said. “The protests are not about racism but overcrowding.”


Italy is running out of patience with its neighbours (Tom Kington writes). Annoyance starts with the deal it struck with the EU to allow Brussels’ Operation Triton patrol vessels to unload all the migrants they rescue off Libya in Italy.

The same privilege was given to naval ships in the EU anti-smuggling operation Sophia, as well as charity rescue boats. The use of their ports has become a touchy subject with Italian voters after 93,000 migrants arrived this year, up 11 per cent on last year.

A further irritation is that the Dublin rules insist migrants request asylum in the first European country they are identified in. If they are identified in Italy then head to France to ask for asylum, they can be turned back under the treaty. After Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia wrote to Italy demanding it shut its ports to migrants this week, Rome tartly replied yesterday: “We expect solidarity from the EU, and we don’t take lessons and will not accept threatening words.”

In 2015 Italy was promised that 160,000 migrants from Italy and Greece would be spread across Europe. Two years on, only 7,621 have left Italy.

Read the original article here.