Image Source: Flickr/International Fund for Animal Welfare Animal Rescue
2017
REGION: East Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Eurasia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Western Hemisphere

In “Enhancing the Detection, Investigation and Disruption of Illicit Financial Flows from Wildlife Crime,” the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports the results of a research project with the Asia/Pacific Group on Money Laundering (APG) that examines data and information on financial flows connected to wildlife crimes in countries and territories within Africa, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the Americas. The research was compiled to assist these countries and territories in combatting wildlife crime by exposing and investigating the financial side of these crimes and by providing recommendations to help recognize warning signs of illicit financial flows stemming from wildlife crime. The project’s aim is to demonstrate the following: the international impact of wildlife crime, the relationship between wildlife crime and other criminal activities, the need for countries to acknowledge the seriousness of it as a crime, and the need for collaboration between countries and organizations to combat wildlife crime.

One finding of the report demonstrated that wildlife crimes affect most countries around the world. Wildlife crime, as defined by this project, is “any criminal violation of a national or international law designed to protect wildlife.” This crime is an international issue that affects almost all countries, either through exportation, importation, or financial transactions.

Another finding was that even though wildlife crime affects almost all countries and is a lucrative business, it is “not widely considered to be a money laundering threat.” The value of wildlife crime is estimated to be between US$7-23 billion annually, but many countries underestimate and overlook it in their National Risk Assessment, missing it as a potential money laundering threat. This oversight also leads countries not to conduct sufficient financial investigations pertaining to wildlife crime. The project found that insufficient investigations are an issue as there is little knowledge about the methods used by smugglers to transmit money around the world, making it difficult for countries to “follow the money.” The research shows that since countries have not prioritized ways to stop illicit financial flows from wildlife smuggling, criminals use wildlife crime to fund other illegal activities. The low-risk, high-reward nature of wildlife crime therefore makes it a predicate crime to other illegal activity internationally.

Based on its complexity, impact, and relationship with other international crimes, wildlife crime should no longer be construed as only a conservation issue, but rather a serious crime worthy of governmental action. It is evident from the findings of the project that while most countries acknowledge the effect of wildlife crime, very few have frameworks in place to punish those involved in wildlife crime. The research found that “very few wildlife crime cases result in serious penalties.” In the countries examined, one third did not have penalties in place that would allow for lengthy prison sentences of more than four years or that would be severe enough to deter wildlife criminals.

Additionally, in order to change the international perception of wildlife crime and for it to gain acknowledgment as a serious crime with serious repercussions, the project found that financial intelligence units (FIUs) need to be “included in a multi-agency approach for wildlife crimes.” The findings make it clear that this will not be an easy endeavor, but it is important that FIUs and agencies work together to combat and stop wildlife crime. Without this cooperation, criminals will continue to find ways to facilitate and exploit wildlife crime further enabling other illegal activities.

Selected recommendations made by UNODC and the APG to countries to help combat wildlife crime are shown below. An extensive list can be located within the report on page 34.

  • Creation of national legislation within a country that requires and imposes serious penalties for facilitating wildlife crime;
  • Consideration and monitoring of wildlife crime as a possible money laundering threat, specifically through the use of National Risk assessments;
  • Encouraging cooperation and communication between different agencies and FIUs within a country, as well as internationally; and
  • Improving information sharing through networks domestically and internationally.

NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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