Latest analysis exposes financial underbelly of global wildlife crime

The Case Digest- An Initial Analysis of the Financial Flows and Payment Mechanisms Behind Wildlife and Forest Crime, provides a thorough examination of the financial data from more than 40 wildlife crime cases from across the globe, including 11 detailed case studies. The report is a product of years of unprecedented collaboration between participating government agencies, financial intelligence units, non-governmental organisations and other sector experts.

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Key Findings
TRAFFIC, together with its key partner UNODC canvassed the globe for cases, with valuable contributions from leading financial crime partners, to identify examples where financial investigation was conducted to analyse and build out specific patterns, trends and recommendations for practitioners. The report also includes specific red flag indicators, criminal network diagrams, identified corruption vulnerabilities, lists of associated high-risk entities, and data on convergence between wildlife and other crimes.

“The lack of precedent in applying financial investigative techniques to wildlife crime cases is a significant barrier to combating illegal wildlife trade. Until recently there has been a gap in the data and information available, which was identified by our financial institution and law enforcement partners, but this report helps to fill those gaps in knowledge. By presenting real-life case examples that illustrate how sophisticated the financial mechanisms being used by wildlife traffickers are, investigative units and other stakeholders will be able to more strategically target their resources and intelligence systems to disrupt this illicit trade.” Nick Ahlers, Africa Programme Director for TRAFFIC and a principal contributor to this publication.

The cases included in the report represent a cross section of geographic regions within Africa, Asia and Latin America, as well as a range of terrestrial and marine species which are targeted by criminal syndicates.

The most significant finding from the report’s analysis was that the payment mechanisms and laundering techniques used by criminals to evade detection are as creative as the means to move the physical products. A wide range of payment types and laundering techniques were identified including domestic and international wire transfers, trade-based money laundering, mobile money platforms, money transfer service companies, hawala, nominee and legitimate business accounts, and a high use of cash intensive business.

“This book is very welcome, as it starts to demystify how financial crime linked to wildlife and forest operates. It is a useful tool to assist countries and we hope that it serves as a basis for pursuing financial investigations to detect and deter organized criminal groups from engaging in these crimes. We look forward to further publications on similar themes as the extent of knowledge around the world on this vital subject increases.” – Jorge Rios, Chief of UNODC’s Global Programme for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime.

Viewing wildlife crime as a financial crime has gained great momentum in recent years. This report builds on recently published reports by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) in June 2020, The EGMONT Centre of FIU Excellence and Leadership, ECOFEL, in January 2021 and the work of the United for Wildlife Financial Taskforce partners.

Despite these efforts, applying financial investigation techniques to wildlife crime cases is still significantly underutilised at the global level. As a for profit crime, greater attention on the financial aspects of this illicit trade is needed for more effective law enforcement responses. This requires enhanced surveillance and capacity to identify suspicious activities, improved reporting by financial institutions, and stronger collaboration with well-resourced, specialised law enforcement units to identify and remove the enormous sums of illicit financial revenues that remain in the hands of criminals which are being laundered through formal and informal mechanisms.

This report is a practical resource for financial institutions, law enforcement agencies, government institutions, regulatory bodies, capacity building organisations, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations and ground-level practitioners; providing them with information to support them in performing their jobs more effectively in their commitments to clamping down on the illegal wildlife trade internationally.

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