Digital Fingerprints Lead Modern Day Sleuths to Traffickers

Nairobi, KENYA, May 30 2018 – Eight African nationals, including government officers, have been arrested for trafficking large consignments of endangered wildlife during an ambitious law enforcement operation that officially concluded yesterday.  A multinational, counter-organized crime team of investigators used advanced software to trace wild animal body parts seized in Southeast Asia back to sophisticated smuggling operations out of two Central African countries.  The law enforcement operation spanned 7 countries over 4 weeks.  Five of the people arrested have already been sentenced to prison with hefty financial fines, announced the head of a task force.

The multinational Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) announced today that their enforcement sweep resulted in 4 arrests in Democratic Republic of Congo and 4 arrests in Congo Brazzaville. All 8 arrested appeared in court where bail was denied. Of the arrested, 3 were government officers responsible for inspecting commercial exports, which in this case were labeled as fish products and timber, when in reality they concealed elephant tusks and scales of pangolins, both endangered species. A Guinean national “kingpin” tied to other wildlife shipments, Djani Ousmane was one of the arrested.

One seizure alone tied to the suspects took place on April 20th in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and contained 3.8 tons of pangolin body scales, which represented roughly 1,000 dead animals.  The black market street value of that shipment was an estimated $2.6 million USD.  The accused are also tied to shipments of elephant tusks that were seized in Thailand in September 2017.  Pangolins are the most heavily traded mammal in the world, due mainly to the demand for their scales, which are used in traditional medicines.  An estimated 40-50 elephants are poached a day for their tusks, which are used to make ornaments and jewelry, with some ivory figurines fetching several hundred thousands of dollars.

The rapid-fire string of arrests benefited from a new analytical center, “ACE”, run by law enforcement advisors who trained the investigators using advanced analytics technology.    Officers from Vietnam, Thailand, Congo Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cambodia, and Laos were convened by LATF in Congo Brazzaville in February this year, when they underwent joint analytics training and shared information on wildlife seizures.  Some officers were taught how to pour through data using special software that helped them link and illuminate illicit trafficking channels between Africa and Asia.  They discovered nodes along a criminal supply chain that overlaid with certain government offices and shipping companies.  Evidence was then collected, and the team moved in for the quick chain of arrests.  INTERPOL supported the operation.

Our ability to make so many key arrests in such a short period of time was due to the sharing and analysis of critical data, enabled by advanced training and technology,” said Bonaventure Ebayi, Director of LATF.  “The officers also brushed up on law to help them make thorough and convincing cases to the court, which paid off.”

Moving beyond seizures and low level arrests to high level takedowns like this are what wild elephants, pangolins and other endangered species desperately right now,” said Sean O’Regan, Director of Freeland in Africa, which trained the LATF-led team.  “People benefit too: we are finding that these same criminal chains are used to traffic everything.”

Wildlife protectors in Africa are starting to catch up with poachers and traffickers,” said Jimmiel Mandima, of the African Wildlife Foundation, a partner to Freeland.

It is refreshing to see law enforcers using new skills and legal awareness to disrupt wildlife trafficking supply chains,” said John Gantt, President of the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, a partner to Freeland and African Wildlife Foundation in Africa and Asia, where they are supporting improvement of laws to protect wildlife.

Evidence from the investigation points to Chinese companies as the ultimate buyers, while logistics brokers used Vietnam and Thailand to transit the illicit cargo from exporter to importer.  One of the consignees was China National Township Enterprise Corporation, Chan Yang District, Beijing, China.

IBM Citizenship outfitted the new ACE (Analytical Center of Excellence) with the analytical software “i2”, which was used for the joint training and investigations.

Ebayi said that “investigations will continue until we have dismantled all illicit supply chains that are endangering our continent’s wildlife.”

Note to Editors: Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) is an inter-governmental law enforcement organization established to support the efforts by countries in reducing and ultimately eliminating illegal trade in wild fauna and flora in Africa. LATF is headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. It is the Secretariat and operational arm of the Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna, a regional treaty adopted in 1994 under the auspices of UN Environment.

Freeland, African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and ICCF are partnering to counter wildlife trafficking between Africa and Asia.  Freeland and AWF are sponsored by the US State Department Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL).  Grace Farms Foundation of the USA also provided self-funded financial crimes investigators to a special training course.

Freeland is a frontline counter–trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Our team of law enforcement, policy and legal development and behavior change specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to build capacity, reduce demand, strengthen networks and promote good governance to protect critical ecosystems and vulnerable people. Freeland launched “ACE” with support from IBM Citizenship.

African Wildlife Foundation: The African Wildlife Foundation is the primary advocate for the protection of wildlife and wild lands as an essential part of a modern and prosperous Africa. Founded in 1961 and with a mission ‘To ensure wildlife and wild lands thrive in modern Africa’, AWF recognizes that Africa’s wildlife resources and ecosystems are critical to the future prosperity of Africa and its people. AWF is implementing a portfolio of Species Protection projects, targeting endangered, threatened and vulnerable species such as elephants, rhinoceros, great apes and large carnivores. This is led by a dedicated Species Conservation team operating from AWF’s home office in Nairobi, Kenya. This team has multidisciplinary capacity of species science, community engagement and legal aspects of wildlife crime, and oversees all programs to combat wildlife crime in sub-Saharan Africa.

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