UK aid to crack down on criminal gangs driving the illegal wildlife trade

International Development Secretary announces new joint initiative with the Foreign Office at event with the Duke of Cambridge.

Prince William in Kenya
Prince William helps with elephant collaring in Namunyak Conservancy. Photo: Twitter/JudiWakhungu

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt yesterday (10 October) announced a new joint initiative with the Foreign Office, to target wildlife traffickers and criminal gangs, tackling the global scourge of the illegal wildlife trade.

The UK aid project will launch investigations, seize assets and train law enforcement in East and Southern African countries and will be the largest known project of its kind to crack down on financial crimes associated with the illegal wildlife trade in the world.

Ms Mordaunt will set out this support at an event with the Duke of Cambridge, where global financial organisations will jointly declare that they “will not knowingly facilitate or tolerate financial flows that are derived from IWT and associated corruption”.

This Wildlife Financial Taskforce will initially comprise of representatives from 30 global banks and financial organisations such as Standard Chartered, HSBC, RBS and City Group, and agencies and regulatory bodies including TRAFFIC and RUSI.

Today’s announcement comes ahead of the landmark Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference being held in London on 11-12 October, the largest conference ever to be held on this issue.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt said:

“We can only stop the illegal wildlife trade by targeting the international gangs and criminal networks which essentially drive it.

“UK aid is directly supporting efforts to recover illegal assets, disrupt organised crime networks and stop the flow of dirty money so that we can protect endangered and trafficked species and bring those responsible to justice.

“By protecting these species, UK aid enables some of the world’s poorest people to benefit from sustainable jobs which depend on the natural world and endangered, wild animals.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

“The illegal wildlife trade is driving endangered species to the brink of extinction and robbing communities around the world of vital income. To truly end this crime we need to tackle the corruption which allows the trade to flourish, with cross-border investigations which lead to successful prosecutions.

“The UK is funding programmes committed to do just that, helping law enforcement authorities in African countries to trace dirty money back to the criminal syndicates behind the dreadful illegal trade in animals and animal parts. This will help put the criminal kingpins behind the trade behind bars, where they belong.”

Participating in the illegal wildlife trade is currently a low risk, high reward crime.

Choking the ability of poachers and traders to move money is an essential component of stopping the trade. The same gangs trafficking wildlife products are likely to move other illegal goods, like drugs and weapons.

This new support is the largest UK aid project to specifically crack down on dirty money enabling the illegal wildlife trade. The support will:

  • Drive up the number of investigations and successful prosecutions for corruption, money laundering and wildlife trafficking, by identifying individuals and groups committing the crime; and training law enforcement to conduct investigations.
  • Increase the use of sanctions like freezing and seizing assets and visa bans, and encouraging new tactics like investigating money laundering and tax evasion to disrupt criminal networks and target individual bosses – just like Al Capone.
  • Improve cooperation of domestic and international law enforcement so that entire criminal networks can be targeted – including police, investigative units, shipping companies and the private sector.
  • Support ‘parallel financial investigations’, tracking dirty money to allow an arrest of low level poachers or traffickers to lead to the identification and arrest of high-ranking criminals.

This work will include countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Botswana and Côte d’Ivoire, where recent arrests of wildlife crime offenders provide the opportunity to go after senior crime bosses. Others may be chosen for further action in due course.

What the UK’s support will look like:

  • Funding will go to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime to work with law enforcement, mentoring and training authorities in intelligence detection and investigative techniques
  • The Egmont Centre will train, share best practice and improve international cooperation by Financial Investigation Units. Its members include the UK’s National Crime Agency and US Department of the Treasury.
  • The FCO’s will focus on detecting, investigating and prosecuting corruption relating to IWT – which will have knock on benefits in preventing the negative influence of corruption on international trade (including UK investors and exporters) and critical public services. This will also finance protection for whistle-blowing to encourage the reporting of illegal activity.

The UK funded Global Wildlife Programme has already worked with Kenya’s Parliament to enact the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act 2013, which increased both prison sentences and financial penalties for wildlife-related crimes, and this new initiative will help us secure more results like that.

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