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Archive for February, 2012

Long term jail for cociane smugglers in the United Kingdom

Two men who attempted to smuggle 17 kilograms of cocaine into the UK inside live tropical fish have been jailed.

Olaf Urlik, 33, and Norbert Jarzabek, 32, both originally from Poland, first practised and then attempted to smuggle the high purity cocaine, worth an estimated AUD $2.36 million at wholesale, from Colombia into the UK.

The drug was dissolved in bags of fluid and then stored inside larger bags with the live fish, the Serious Organised Crime Agency said.

More than 16,000 fish died, and 34 survivors, including stingrays, catfish and tetras, are currently recovering in ZSL London Zoo.

Jarzabek carried out a trial run last April in a lock-up garage in Islington, London, after collecting a consignment of fish at Heathrow airport.

Urlik and Jarzabek then plotted the shipment which would contain cocaine, unaware that investigators from SOCA were watching.

The shipment of 25 double boxes of tropical fish arrived on July 9, labelled “Live Tropical Fish, Handle With Extreme Care”.

When SOCA and UK Border Agency officials scanned the boxes, they found ten containing bags of dissolved cocaine.

Jarzabek picked up the fish at the airport two days later. The consignment was loaded into the back of a van and driven to a property in Glade Avenue, Nottingham.

Urlik joined Jarzabek at the property about 2am after flying in from Amsterdam.

An hour and a half later, officers from SOCA and the UK Border Agency swooped and arrested the men at the scene, where a number of fish were found dead or dying in a colander due to a lack of oxygen.

Urlik and Jarzabek were jailed for 11 years each at Nottingham Crown Court on Friday after admitting conspiracy to import cocaine at an earlier hearing.

Sentencing the pair on Friday, His Honour Judge Head, said: “This was a highly sophisticated operation.

“Both these men had a substantial awareness of what they were doing, each had a leading role and both set to gain substantially.”

Following the hearing, Gerry Smyth, from SOCA, said: “These two were exceptionally callous. They used living creatures as a test run and then effectively as packaging for their drugs, seeing only the profits they would make.

“SOCA is grateful to the expert teams at ZSL London Zoo who helped us out in this very unusual case.

“Partnerships at a national and international level are vital if we are to tackle drug trafficking. Drugs cause misery for families and communities. These criminals are now facing lengthy jail terms and they’ve been denied their profits.”

Rachel Jones, from London Zoo, who is looking after the surviving fish, said: “Despite the awful way that they came about being here, we are pleased to say that the fish are now thriving at ZSL London Zoo’s Aquarium.

“When we first got the fish, most of them were drastically underweight, and they’d been living in cold, dirty water for days.

“Since we’ve been caring for them, we’ve seen vast improvements in their health; they’re growing really fast and they’ve joined groups of other Amazonian species for the public to see. They have a great future ahead of them, here at the zoo.”

Jacqueline Finn, senior lawyer in the Crown Prosecution Service organised crime division, said: “This case demonstrates the extraordinary and innovative lengths that drug dealers will go to so they can ply their evil trade.

“Urlik and Jarzabek thought that by having diluted cocaine hidden in bags of fish they would escape detection and net huge profits but they did not realise their plot had been detected.

“The joint investigation by SOCA, UKBA and Nottinghamshire Police provided the Crown Prosecution Service with detailed evidence against the two men.

“We worked closely with the agencies to build a strong case and when confronted with the evidence against them, Urlik and Jarzabek both pleaded guilty.”

 

After Perth homes were sold without the owners’ consent in an unprecedented scam that shocked the real estate landscape, it triggered the largest ever overhaul of the state’s property industry. Further incidents have since been foiled after stringent new measures were brought in late last year. But property owners face a new risk, with potentially the same scammers devising a new con, this time targeting rental income. Courtney Trenwith spoke to the WA Police fraud squad detective leading the investigation, which has branched out into China and Nigeria.

Detective Senior Sergeant Robert Martin had spent more than a year trying to solve the puzzle of who managed to fraudulently sell two Perth houses, and how, when a similar but new crime came across his desk in December.

A real estate agent, who had undergone new training in how to identify fraud as a result of the industry overhaul, was sceptical about an email they received requesting to have rental payments from a particular property redirected to a new bank account.

Sniffing out anew scam ... Detective Robert Martin form the Major Fraud Squad.
Sniffing out anew scam … Detective Robert Martin form the Major Fraud Squad.

Mr Martin immediately identified it as a new scam and added it to his investigation.

It is one of dozens of documents that have been brought to his attention by evermore alert real estate agents, desperate not to become the third victim in a scheme that has been extremely embarrassing for the industry.

The suspect email was traced to the Nigerian capital, Lagos – the same city from where the two fraudulent sales were conducted.

Scammed ... Roger Mildenhall.
Scammed … Roger Mildenhall. Photo: ABC

However, without any further information Mr Martin cannot be sure it is also the work of the original scammers.

The number of successful and unsuccessful fraud incidents has sparked property industries across the country to request his help to secure their sectors.

An unprecedented mystery

Mr Martin has never dedicated so much time to one matter in his eight years as a senior fraud investigator, such was the impact of the fraudulent sale of two Perth houses in September, 2010 and about April, 2011.

Hundreds of people who had bought properties in recent times were put on notice that they too could be unsuspecting victims, while the government’s state titles registrar, Landgate, re-examined every property transaction during the time period.

Real estate agents, settlement agents, conveyancers and Landgate employees were all put under scrutiny and forced to adopt stringent new security measures and processes to prevent yet another mistake.

Not to mention the victims: Roger Mildenhall, who lost his $400,000 Karrinyup house, and the anonymous, now former, owner of the second property in Ballajura.

Under WA law, the properties remain with the new owners.

Both victims are still negotiating compensation.

Mr Martin would not describe the scam as elaborate, instead highlighting the poor safe guards the industry had at the time.

“It was an opportunistic scheme and it caught the property industry … off guard,” Mr Martin said.

“Both matters [have been] my highest priority, not only because of the value [of the properties] but because of the public interest and the impact that it had on the community.”

He has managed to trace the crimes back to a self-funded tertiary college in Lagos.

In both cases, the offenders used the college as the mailing address for documents that needed to be signed to process the sales.

“It’s likely that the offender or offenders are the same … because they used the same street address as their mailing address in both cases,” Mr Martin said.

However, the computers used to send emails to the real estate agent requesting to sell the properties were different and may not be located at the college, leaving open a significant gap in the investigation.

“Whether it’s a person from [the college], who knows,” Mr Martin said.

“Whether the college has anything to do with it, we don’t know.”

The second victim was living in Nigeria when his investment property was sold without his knowledge. He only discovered the crime when he visited Perth in August, last year.

“We believe his records were compromised while he was working in Nigeria,” Mr Martin said.

“Whereas in the first one, we believe that the mail had been intercepted and was being forwarded to the offender [rather than] the real estate agent and his ID was stolen as a result.”

In a WA first, the Nigerian police earlier this month agreed to assist in the investigation via the Australian Federal Police. Australian officers have no control over the Nigerian end but are hopeful they will be able to solve the who, where and how.

But there has not been such cooperation from the Bank of China, which hosted the bank accounts where the property sale proceeds were deposited and it has ignored requests for information lodged months ago.

In both cases the accounts were set up using the property owners’ real name but fake date of birth.

“[Police need] the documents that were provided to the bank to open the account and [to know] whether the funds were still in the account or if they had been removed, and if so how they were removed and which account they were transferred to,” Mr Martin said.

“We have no authority to request or execute search warrants or demand any information at all [in China], so … we’re entirely reliant on … the Bank of China assisting us on their own accord.”

Without the bank’s assistance it is unlikely the offenders will be brought to justice, or even that the cases will be solved.

“I’m not confident,” Mr Martin said.

He is preparing his final report and expects to close the case in March – only to be reopened if new evidence from Nigeria or China comes to light.

Industry ‘too slow’ to react

Mr Martin said the second fraud may not have occurred had the industry reacted to the first incident quicker.

Few in the industry had been properly briefed on what had happened and how they could prevent another incident.

Changes were swiftly implemented following the second case.

Since then, police have conducted awareness seminars for real estate agents, settlement agents and conveyancers throughout Perth and in the South West.


EXTORTION OF $50,000 FOR CLAMMING UP ON PROGRAMME CODE

Symantec, the biggest maker of computer-security software, said a person claiming to be part of the Anonymous group tried to extort $US50,000 ($46,276) to keep it from posting stolen source code on the internet.

“Symantec conducted an internal investigation into this incident and also contacted law enforcement given the attempted extortion and apparent theft of intellectual property,” Mountain View, California-based Symantec said in a statement.

A group calling itself Lords of Dharmaraja, which claims an affiliation with hacker group Anonymous, has been publicly taunting Symantec for weeks in online forums, saying that it stole programming code for several Symantec products and was planning to leak it on the web. Symantec said that code that was already posted is real, and was stolen in a 2006 incursion into its network, though most of it was for obsolete products, limiting the potential damage from a disclosure.

One vulnerable program is pcAnywhere, which corporate technical staff used to remotely control employees’ computers. Symantec said it has issued patches, or fixes for known security holes, for the product. Customers using older versions who don’t apply the patches face a slightly increased security risk, Symantec said. That means that hackers may find it easier to break into corporate networks that use the program.

Source code is valuable because it is a blueprint for how a company built a piece of software. Hackers who get their hands on it can hunt for weaknesses.

Security software is constantly probed for programming errors, and many legal, third-party programs exist to help security researchers find those flaws, without the need to examine source code, said Rich Mogull, chief executive officer of Securosis, a Phoenix-based security research firm. That limits the source code’s usefulness in crafting attacks, especially for older products whose errors have already been fixed, Mogull said.


MDPV THE SYNTHETIC DRUG CHEAPER VERSION OF COCAINE OR ECSTACY

The potentially fatal psychoactive drug MDPV will be banned in WA from midnight on Friday, the state government announced today.

It follows 25 seizures of the drug, which is sold as a cheaper version of cocaine or ecstasy, in the past 12 months.

Methylenedioxypyrovalerone can cause anxiety, paranoia and acute cardiovascular and central nervous system toxicity. It has been linked to two deaths in Victoria and South Australia, where it has also been banned.

Police believe the drug is being imported from Europe and the UK, where it has been prevalent since 2004.

Anyone caught with the drug after Friday could be charged for possession, selling, supplying or intent to sell or supply.

Detective senior sergeant Brett Ranford, from the organised crime squad, said the quantities seized by police ranged in size from one-tenth of a gram to up to 48 grams.

“It is an emerging trend. It has similar effects I believe to cocaine and methamphetamine, and anecdotally from our eastern states counterparts, it is mainly used by hard-core methamphetamine users as a substitute drug,” he said.

He said the fact illicit drug makers could escape prosecution by creating new forms of synthetic drugs, which don’t contain any of the banned substances, was challenging.

“With the advent of the internet, people are getting smarter about their drug use, and the boundaries are really endless, so that does pose a challenge to police,” he said.

He said in the eastern states, users were turning to MDPV because it was cheaper than other illicit drugs.

Toxicologist Robert Hansson, from the government-run Chem Centre, said 25 samples had been tested in the past year and handed on to police.

“The drug has been around for 12 months in various forms. It’s a stimulant, it raises, blood pressure, body temperature, produces euphoria,” he said.

“It has a myriad of effects which are very powerful and very potent.”

He said the drug was dangerous as it was being sold as amphetamines, and people didn’t know what they were buying.

WA Minister for Mental Health Helen Morton said MDPV has been a controlled substance in Australia since 2010, meaning importation is banned, and from May 1 this year it will be banned Australia-wide by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

“This is a positive step and I have always said a national response to the issue of emerging drugs is the most effective approach,” Ms Morton said.

“But we can’t wait until then and we are taking action in WA now, to hopefully avoid the harm that some people in the eastern states have already suffered because of this dangerous drug.”

Anyone in possession of the drug is being urged to dispose of it responsibly before Friday.


Insurance for kidnapping is not cheap but what do you expect

It is a hazard of Doug Milne’s job that sometimes his valued clients – people he considers friends – are murdered. He is not a member of the security services, however, but an insurance broker, albeit one who focuses exclusively on kidnap and ransom insurance for companies and wealthy individuals. That he describes himself as an insurance broker at dinner parties rather than recount some of the more dramatic aspects of his work is typical of his very British sense of self-restraint.

Take his attitude to some of his experiences when travelling for business (he refuses to say whether he is insured against kidnap himself, as this would nullify a policy). Mr Milne recalls taking a taxi from Bogotá airport in the mid-1980s when three people pulled up alongside him waving guns. After swerving across the road they managed to pull off down a slip road. “These sort of things happen,” he shrugs in a conference room at the company’s London headquarters. “You get so used to it. Your adrenalin goes crazy but afterwards you have a drink and get over it.”

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His wife, he says, is used to seeing him off as he departs for dangerous destinations. But these days he tends not to give her “a lot of notice if I’m going somewhere like southern Iraq. I’d rather put up with the aggro just for a couple of hours than a few weeks”.

Despite this buttoned-up approach, the 53-year-old chief executive of Special Contingency Risks, a subsidiary of insurance broker Willis, says he is affected by the deaths of clients. He recalls one individual he used to stay with in Colombia, a “very dynamic, macho man”, who was kidnapped by “some of Pablo Escobar’s men”. Two weeks after he was released, when the ransom was paid, Mr Milne’s friend spotted one of his kidnappers at a bullfight – the police subsequently arrested six people. A year later, as they were being sentenced, three men burst into his office and “butchered him to pieces” in view of his girlfriend. “I was completely and utterly shocked,” he says.

Do such experiences make him more cautious about becoming close to clients?

“No, I went to a Scottish boarding school,” he offers by way of explanation for his stiff-upper-lip approach.

Born in Qatar, “of oil company stock”, he spent much of his childhood moving around the Middle East. His parents met in Basra, Iraq – his mother was there to get work experience with an Iraqi trading family and his father was an oil engineer working for the Iraq Petroleum Company, a consortium of the world’s largest oil groups.

After boarding school, he tried his hand at art, hoping to “find some hidden talents. I didn’t”.

A year later he snapped up the offer of a job at Willis to “look after all the unusual bits of insurance no one else wanted”. This included twin insurance – in the days before antenatal scans, parents could buy insurance against the additional cost of bringing up twins.

Another part of his “mixed bag” of products was looking after kidnap insurance. “It was a lot more interesting than twins,” he says.

Convinced this was a growth area, he persuaded his boss to send him to Colombia and Peru in 1982, then hotbeds of kidnapping. After a two-week language course in Spanish, he flew to Bogotá. “I came back to London with a full order book. My boss agreed I could specialise and gradually we built up a business,” he says.

Now, in addition to insurance, SCR provides security advice and his team ranges from accountants to security professionals with a military and police background.

Mr Milne says he is on call 24/7. He may pick up the phone at any time of day to a security manager of an international oil company or the wife of a billionaire alerting him to a kidnap.

The level of ransom varies by country. “I came across a company that had a couple of oil engineers kidnapped in Niger – they claim to have paid $30m to have them released. I would have paid less than $1m for an oil engineer in that area.” Paying such inflated prices, he says, distorts the market and inflates kidnappers’ expectations.

Broadly, he identifies two types of kidnapping. First, there are those that are highly organised, where the target has been followed extensively. “It might have cost them $30,000 to set up so there’s no point in offering less than $30,000 as there’s no return on equity,” he says. “These require a lot of financial negotiation.”

Then there are “cheap and cheerful” kidnappings. “These are random; you might be stopped in your car, beaten up and locked in the trunk. Your loved one will be called and asked for $30,000. There is very little negotiation involved in that. Our best strategy is prevention and having a contingency plan that includes having cash in the house to pay the ransom.”

As these are a lot less professional (often carried out by individuals on drugs) they can be very violent and the risk of death is high. “They are smaller in terms of financial demand but more expensive psychologically,” says Mr Milne. “One of the interesting things about kidnaps [is that] you might get a victim who’s been held in a Colombian jungle for a year, will come out quite fit, well cared for … quite upbeat; whereas the victims in these shorter kidnappings are quite traumatised.”

A growing part of his work is expatriate evacuation triggered by political upheaval. This year he is closely monitoring Algeria and Saudi Arabia.

Last year the company helped move employees of international companies from Libya and Egypt. “We had 52 clients in the area who had contingency plans but once the air space was closed, the plans fell away.” The key lesson was that “the best plans don’t work. You need lateral thinking”.

Piracy is another area that has grown in recent years and the sums are much higher than in individual kidnappings. “If it was an oil vessel, paying less than $10m is unlikely and generally a ship might be held for over 200 days,” he says.

Every day there is a new scenario developing, he says, so his even temperament is important.

Is he a typical insurance broker? He emits a deep throaty laugh. “No. And I’ve no desire to move to other parts of the insurance world.”

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