By Dipo Olowookere
A new project to identify and dismantle the organized crime networks making billions in illicit profits behind wildlife trafficking between Africa and Asia has been launched by INTERPOL.
Targeting high profile traffickers in Asia sourcing wildlife from Africa, the project will provide a strengthened law enforcement response in source, transit and destination countries, particularly those linked to the illicit trade in ivory, rhinoceros horn and Asian big cat products.
With environmental crime estimated to be worth up to USD 258 billion and linked to other criminal activities including corruption, money laundering and firearms trafficking, the project led by INTERPOL’s Environmental Security programme will draw on the expertise of other specialized units.
These include the Anti-Corruption and Financial crime unit, the Digital Forensics Lab for the extraction of data from seized equipment, the Firearms programme for weapons tracing and ballistics analysis and the Fugitive Investigations unit to assist countries locate and arrest wanted environmental criminals.
INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said the project embodied the added value of INTERPOL to help countries more effectively target specific crime threats.
“Protecting the world’s wildlife heritage is our collective responsibility, as global citizens and as international law enforcement,” said Secretary General Stock.
“It is essential that decisive action is taken to combat environmental crime and this project targeting the organized crime links between Africa and Asia will enable all involved actors to unite in their efforts, and provide a blueprint for future actions elsewhere in the world,” added the INTERPOL Chief.
A recent INTERPOL-UN Environment report showed 80 per cent of countries consider environmental crime a national priority, with the majority saying new and more sophisticated criminal activities increasingly threaten peace and security.
Supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and in collaboration with the International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), the INTERPOL initiative will draw on the intelligence gathered from existing projects including Wisdom, Predator and Scale.
In addition to expanding the level of investigative cooperation between the involved countries, the project will also provide increased analytical support for activities both in the field and for online investigations.
Fisheries crime will also be targeted as part of the project. Due to the increasing value of fish as a commodity, the last decade has seen an escalation of transnational and organized criminal networks engaged in this type of crime.
In addition to undermining the sustainability of marine resources, illegal fishing is also often linked to human trafficking with crews subjected to labour and human rights abuses, fraud in regulatory systems and corruption, damaging legitimate businesses and economies.
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