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Setting the standard internationally25/01/2015 - 16:20
Insults fly as MEP leaves UKIP for Tories
Britain's anti-EU UKIP party, which threatens to split the right-wing vote and hand victory to Labour in May's general election, has suffered a reverse with the defection...
Insults fly as MEP leaves UKIP for Tories58db9a5be671b33fa266d3c768a999509b21ed86.jpg
AFP / Carl Court
MEP Amjad Bashir described his former party UKIP in The Sunday Telegraph as one of "ruthless self-interest" with a "ridiculous" lack of policies, while UKIP said it had already suspended Bashir after becoming "alarmed" by his behaviour
Britain's anti-EU UKIP party, which threatens to split the right-wing vote and hand victory to Labour in May's general election, has suffered a reverse with the defection of one of its members to the Tories, triggering a war of words Sunday.
Amjad Bashir, a little-known member of the European Parliament, described his former party in The Sunday Telegraph as one of "ruthless self-interest" with a "ridiculous" lack of policies, while UKIP said it had already suspended Bashir after becoming "alarmed" by his behaviour.
UKIP, often mocked for its members' lack of party discipline and unsophisticated policies, has nethertheless shaken up the political landscape in Britain over the past few years.
The Tories have become increasingly concerned by the popularity of UKIP's anti-EU stance and leader Nigel Farage's 'man of the people' appeal.
UKIP now has two MPs following defections from the Conservative Party and won the European parliamentary elections held in May.
UKIP said on Sunday it had already suspended MEP Bashir before the news on Saturday that he had joined the Tories.
"We have been increasingly alarmed by Mr Bashir's behaviour over the last few months," Farage told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme.
"I tell you what he can't deny and that's his continuing association with political extremists from Pakistan despite us saying please, please, keep away."
He repeated claims that Bashir "didn't tell us the truth" about allegations illegal immigrants were employed in his restaurant business and said there were "some big open questions in Brussels about money".
Bashir hit back calling the accusations a "desperate attempt" to smear him to distract from his defection while Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said he was "absolutely satisfied" that the new recruit was a "mainstream" and "moderate" politician.
UKIP was until a few years ago a marginal party with the single goal of ending Britain's membership of the European Union. But it has become an increasingly-powerful political force, pushing immigration issues up the agenda.
Cameron is desperate to stem the tide of voters flowing to UKIP, fearing they will split the right wing vote and hand victory to Labour in elections due later this year.
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Essential news in text, photo, graphic and video format25/01/2015 - 07:49
Ivory mafia: how criminal gangs are killing Africa's elephants
AFP / Simon Maina
Hundreds of Kenyans join conservationists and activists for a march demanding action to stop soaring rhino and elephant poaching, on October 4, 2014 in Nairobi
Shortly before 11 am on the last Saturday in May, a heavily laden white Mitsubishi truck pulled into the Fuji Motors East Africa car dealership in an industrial neighbourhood on the northern edge of Mombasa.
The truck's cargo was not "household equipment" as declared, but 228 elephant tusks and 74 ivory pieces weighing a total of 2,152 kilograms (4,700 pounds).
When Kenyan police officers raided the car lot five days later, they refused a bribe of five million shillings ($55,000, 49,000 euros), seized the ivory and arrested two men. The bust was one of the biggest in the country's history but the suspected mastermind, Feisal Mohamed Ali, aged 46, had escaped.
Ali was "alleged to be the ringleader of an ivory smuggling ring in Kenya" according to Interpol, and in November the international police organisation listed him among the world's nine "most wanted environmental criminals".
A month later Ali was arrested in neighbouring Tanzania, extradited to Kenya and charged with illegally dealing in wildlife trophies.
It is rare for an alleged ivory kingpin to be caught, and activists hope Ali's trial will shine a light on the shadowy supply chain that funnels ivory from Africa to Asian markets.
afp.com / SAVE THE ELEPHANTS /
A handout photo provided by the campaign group Save the Elephants on December 9, 2014 and taken on May 19 shows ivory goods on sale in Beijing
"People who get apprehended are mainly the foot soldiers, the poachers or foreign middlemen," said Mary Rice, executive director of the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency, which recently exposed the scale of ivory smuggling out of Tanzania.
"There hasn't been a single kingpin prosecuted," she said.
The poachers commonly targeted by law enforcement officers are paid around $100 per kilo for ivory at source, but they know almost nothing of the resource extraction machinery of which they are small, replaceable cogs.
Experts say that international criminal gangs control the trade, pushing Africa's elephants towards extinction. A joint UN Environment Programme and Interpol study in 2013 said that up to 25,000 African elephants are killed each year to feed an illegal trade worth up to $188 million.
- Mafia-like organisations -
"Forget about the poachers, this is organised crime," said Ofir Drori, corruption investigator and founding director of Eagle Wildlife Law Enforcement. "It's not an African problem, the trade is international."
The supply end of the global ivory pipeline begins in the besieged nature reserves of East and Central Africa and ends at the Indian Ocean ports of Kenya and Tanzania, from where shipping containers with hidden cargoes of ivory are exported to Asia.
DNA tests on large ivory seizures over the last five years have shown the vast majority is sourced from two areas: Tanzania's Selous Reserve and Central Africa's Congo Basin rainforest. Almost all of it ends up in large, consolidated stockpiles at the ports of Mombasa, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
afp.com / SAVE THE ELEPHANTS /
A handout photo provided by the campaign group Save the Elephants on December 9, 2014 and taken on May 19 shows a worker carving ivory at a licensed factory in Beijing
"There's been a substantial shift in the nature of the people involved in the ivory trade," said Varun Vira, chief of analysis at C4ADS, who has investigated the criminal syndicates involved.
The modern trade is dominated by a small number of mafia-like organisations capable of paying off -- or putting on the payroll -- a reservoir of hunters and drivers enabled by a network of park rangers, police officers, customs officials, shipping agents and freight forwarders as well as detectives and judges to subvert court cases if things go wrong.
Influential politicians are also paid to "oil the wheels," as one conservationist put it, and to provide the syndicates with high-level protection.
Working in close partnership, Asian and African criminal gangs control the entire supply chain from source to market. The gangs are becoming more integrated with Asian criminals living and working in Africa where they can maintain close control over operations and "nest" illicit businesses within legal import-export companies.
Price said that the Chinese bosses she has investigated in Africa worked hard to limit their exposure. "They never really got their hands dirty. They paid others to do the work," she said.
- Low risk business -
Bribery and corruption facilitate the largely uninterrupted flow of ivory tusks which are commonly shipped in 20 or 40-foot (6 or 12-metre) containers and hidden among legally exported products such as nuts, garlic, sea shells and dried fish, or behind false walls and floors.
AFP / Tony Karumba
A bull elephant forages in the evening light on August 7, 2014 at the Ol Jogi rhino sanctuary, in the Laikipia county, approximately 300 kilometres north of the Kenyan capital, Nairobi
"There had been this concept that ivory poaching was somewhat opportunistic and being done on a small-scale by local people but the level of sophistication is greater than we ever thought," said Adam Roberts, chief executive of Born Free USA, a wildlife charity.
The growing size of seizures, frequently more than 500 kilograms at a time, indicates the involvement of sophisticated criminal networks able to move huge quantities at a time, according to TRAFFIC, the organisation mandated to monitor the international trade.
Ivory is worth more than $2,100 per kilo at market but with arrests rare, convictions infrequent and penalties low there are few disincentives. "The profits make it worth doing even if you get caught," said Roberts.
When large seizures are made arrests and convictions rarely follow. A recent five-year study of wildlife cases before Kenyan courts found that only seven percent of those convicted of offences against elephants and rhinos actually went to jail, despite the crimes carrying a maximum ten-year sentence.
"It's a miracle for anyone arrested in Kenya with ivory to be jailed," said Drori who co-authored the report for charity Wildlife Direct.
As Ali's trial gets underway conservationists hope that a successful conviction will lay bare the workings of the international syndicates and send a warning to others involved in the illegal trade. "If Ali is what everybody thinks he is then this is a signal flare," said Vira.
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