African Task Force Shakes Up Wildlife Trafficking Syndicates

tap1

Enforcement Drive Snares 11 Major Criminals including Corrupt Officials and Business Executives

tap
Key syndicate members behind massive trafficking of poached elephant tusks and pangolins to Asia have been arrested in Africa. Photos: Freeland.

 

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC), February 8, 2017 – Long on corruption and short on arrests and convictions of kingpins, the fight against wildlife poaching was boosted by a recent series of groundbreaking enforcement actions in Central and East Africa, totaling 11 high-level arrests, including government officials and shipping company executives over the past five months. African officials confirmed today that those arrested were behind massive shipments of endangered species worth millions of dollars, including about one thousand elephants and thousands of pangolins. The African task force behind the arrests is now set to expand their investigations against criminals and corrupt officers together with Asia-based counterparts.

A senior African task force member has confirmed that those arrested included people behind a 6 ton shipment of pangolin scales that was leaving Tanzania, destined for Asia; 2.1 tons of elephant tusks shipped from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) via Malaysia and seized in Thailand during April 2015; and 1.5 tons of elephant tusks exported from the Republic of Congo (ROC) and seized in Vietnam in December 2014.

The latest round of arrests were coordinated by the cross-border “Lusaka Agreement Task Force” (LATF), which concluded its enforcement drive several days ago when they netted yet another government official and shipping company executive. Kambala Mukenge, Document and Records Senior Manager at OCC (Office of Customs Control Exports) DRC, and Laurent Emery Kabugah, a Manager of ACREP Shipping Company Manager DRC, appeared in court on February 3, 2017 on charges of conspiracy to traffic 1.5 metric tons of elephant tusks. The judge turned down their requests for bail. They will remain in jail until their next hearing in March.

The Customs officers and shipping executive are suspected of colluding with Chinese and African nationals believed to be the masterminds of an ivory trafficking syndicate. An international arrest warrant has been issued for Louis Yong Toon and Kaba Mamadi, who are now both on the run.

These latest arrests are part of an ongoing investigation that first saw two DRC government officials and two shipping company managers arrested in September 2016 and more since then. All the accused have been denied bail and are awaiting trial for charges on conspiracy to traffic ivory. If convicted, they face sentences of two to five years in jail and/or fines of US$200 to $10,000 dollars.
LATF has been following the ivory trafficking case since late 2015 after Thai authorities announced the country’s largest ever seizure of elephant tusks. Labeled as ‘beans’, the 2.1-ton shipment of 739 tusks originated in the DRC and was bound for Laos via Congo, Brazzaville and Thailand.

With support from Bangkok-based counter-trafficking organization Freeland, the LATF and the Association of South East Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) convened to share information on this and similar seizures of elephant tusks. Through support from the US Government and the conservation group, Save the Elephants, Freeland’s special investigations team then trained the African officers on how to follow the trail of documents and money to identify who packed and paid for the illicit cargo of wildlife.

During LATF’s investigation, they also discovered a massive pangolin trafficking scheme. On January 10, Gakou Fodie, the suspected ringleader of a crime syndicate, was arrested in Uganda when he was linked to nine other suspects arrested in Tanzania with six tons of pangolin scales on October 28, 2016. The pangolin shipment was destined for Asia. All 10 suspects will face trial in Tanzania. Authorities suspect that they are part of a bigger operation trafficking in other endangered species too.

“Too often wildlife enforcement agencies have only been seizing the smuggled remains of endangered species and not finding and arresting the traffickers behind the crime,” said Steven Galster, Director of Freeland. “LATF’s recent enforcement drive is changing the game, shaking up the syndicates by going after, arresting, and prosecuting their key members. This intelligent and bold approach spells hope for elephants and other species. Now we need to see cooperation with Asia stepped up, giving time for demand reduction efforts in consumer countries to take root.”

Bonaventure Ebayi, the Director of LATF, said: “LATF, together with its key enforcement partners such as Interpol and supporting NGOs like Freeland will continue to ensure wildlife criminals are tracked and arrested to meet the full force of the law wherever they may be. We wish to call upon the international community and affected countries in Asia such as Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia to support the ongoing efforts in Africa to reverse the growing trends of elephant poaching and ivory trafficking.”

“INTERPOL Brazzaville is fully committed to eradicating poaching and trafficking in Africa and Congo in particular,” said Emmanuel Missaliki, Officer NCB INTERPOL Brazzaville. “This is why we will continue teaming up with governments and key enforcement partners in carrying out crucial investigations into wildlife crime across Africa.”

Pangolins and elephants are two of the most poached wildlife species in the world today.

Up to 30,000 elephants are poached for their tusks in Africa every year to feed the commercial trade in ivory. The poachers are sponsored by organized crime syndicates based in Africa and Asia. The main consumer country, China, has recently agreed to ban all trade in elephant ivory by the end of 2017.

As Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder of Save the Elephants, said, “Criminal networks must reject ivory as being more trouble than it’s worth if we’re to end the crisis for elephants. That means high-level ivory traffickers must be found, arrested and successfully prosecuted. These latest arrests are a shining example of how collaborative action can make this happen.”
The 11 Major Arrests by LATF since September 2016 include:
• Kapayi Kikumbi Jean – Agriculture Engineering and Product Analysis Expert from Ministry of Agriculture, DRC.
• Onakoy Oleko – Senior Inspector at the DRC Bureau of Standards and Certifications from Ministry of Trade and Industrialization.
• Tekatala Bazingu – Deputy General Manager ACREP TRANSIT, DRC
• Kalembu Kamwita Emergy Patrice – General Manager ACREP Transit Shipping Company DRC
• Kambala Mukenge – Document and Records Senior Manager at OCC (Office of Customs Control Exports) DRC
• Laurent Emery Kabugah – ACREP Shipping Company Manager DRC
• Dit Seidou – Owner of BONCOINDU MARCHE transport company RoC
• Seraphan Samron – Director of SAM Transit Company RoC
• Tchikaya Roland – Director of Administration, Finance and Human Resource/Acting Managing Director,
NILE DUTCH Shipping Company RoC
• Ngoula Gildas – Documentation Manager, NILE DUTCH Shipping Company RoC
• Gakou Fodie, suspected ringleader of a wildlife trafficking syndicate, Uganda

Note to editors:

Lusaka Agreement Task Force is an African inter-governmental organization that facilitates cooperative activities in/among the Party states to the Lusaka Agreement, in carrying out investigations on violations of national laws pertaining to the illegal trade in wild fauna and flora.

“ARREST” stands for Africa’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking. It is sponsored by the US Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) and run in partnership with African Wildlife Foundation and IFAW. ARREST training is provided by Freeland.

Freeland is a frontline counter-trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Its team of law enforcement, development and communications specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to protect the environment and vulnerable people from organized crime and corruption. For more info or high-res photos contact Communications Director Josie Raine at josie@freeland.org.

Save the Elephants: Conservation organizations and communities, scientists and governments, are uniting behind a common strategy to stop the killing, the trafficking, and the demand for ivory. The Elephant Crisis Fund—a joint initiative of Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network—exists to fuel this coalition, encourage collaboration, and deliver rapid impacts on the ground.
Bitnami