Using Leads from Asia, African Enforcers Find and Arrest Elephant Killers
Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, (September 16)—Four suspects, including two officials and two business executives, have been arrested for their alleged role in trafficking multi-ton shipments of poached elephant tusks from Africa to Asia after an investigation spanning 16 months in six countries.
In Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), an African wildlife enforcement network, teamed up with national police and INTERPOL to apprehend two senior government officials and two senior shipping company officers for their role in the illegal exports of elephant tusks destined for Laos via Thailand. All four suspects are tied to an Africa-based Chinese national believed to be the financier of the ivory-trafficking operation in the country. The Chinese national remains at large.
The four men arrested are:
1. Mr. KAPAYI KIKUMBI JEAN – Agriculture Engineering and Product Analysis Expert from Ministry of Agriculture, DRC.
2. Mr. ONAKOY OLEKO – Senior Inspector at the DRC Bureau of Standards and Certifications from Ministry of Trade and Industrialization.
3. Mr. TEKATALA BAZINGU – Deputy General Manager ACREP TRANSIT.
4. Mr. KALEMBU KAMWITA EMERY PATRICE – General Manager ACREP TRANSIT Shipping Company DRC Kinshasa.
The LATF team has been following the case since April 20, 2015 when Thai Customs announced Thailand’s largest ever seizure of elephant tusks. Labeled as ‘beans’, the shipment of 739 tusks had originated from the DRC and was bound for Laos via Congo-Brazzaville and Thailand. No arrests have been made in Asia in connection with the seizure.
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 in Bangkok in December 2015 to share information on this and similar seizures of tusks. Freeland’s special investigations team then trained the African officers to follow the trail of documents and money back to Africa to find out who organized and paid for the exports. LATF worked with law enforcement authorities in Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Kenya, and the two Congos to compile their case.
“These kinds of collaborations are crucial to crack down on the ivory trade,” said LATF’s Director Bonaventure Ebayi. “Cooperative enforcement operations among states is key in fighting wildlife trafficking especially in respect to endangered species such as the African elephant, where continued seizures of large quantities of ivory across the world suggests massive poaching of the animal that constitute a great risk of species extinction.”
LATF have been undergoing specialized training by a US government-sponsored counter wildlife trafficking program to investigate ivory trafficking syndicates and other major wildlife crimes. Sponsored by the US Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL), the program is called “Africa’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking” (ARREST). The African team’s visit to Asia to collaborate with Vietnamese and Thai authorities last year was supported by the ARREST-Asia program, sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Given the similarities with other large consignments of elephant tusks discovered by Vietnamese, Singaporean, and Chinese authorities in the past 18 months, the suspects apprehended in the DRC may be part of a wider trafficking ring linked to the ongoing slaughter of elephants in Africa.
“This latest round of arrests in Africa represents a major disruption of an international supply chain that has been devastating elephant populations,” said Steven Galster, who coordinates the ARREST Program for Freeland. “But we’ve noticed that these syndicates are resilient, so in order to truly protect more elephants from being killed, we hope to see African and Asian enforcers stepping up their collaboration to keep following the chain up to the masterminds who are sponsoring the killing and put them out of business.”
Experts calculate that more than 30,000 elephants a year, or one every 15 minutes, is poached for their tusks in Africa to feed the commercial trade in ivory. One tusk can fetch more than US$2,000 per kilo, but a professional carver can increase the price to US$100,000 or more. However, research by ARREST and other programs suggest that traffickers are also stockpiling ivory, speculating on prices going up as populations go down.
“Any strategy to save African elephants has to also involve long-term demand reduction campaigns, to send a signal to consumers and black marketeers that ivory is a bad investment,” said Galster. “The problem is, elephants can’t survive on a long-term strategy alone, which is why LATF’s action this week was so important. A major link in a global criminal supply chain has been broken.”
The four accused will be arraigned to face charges in court in Kinshasa on Monday for conspiracy and trafficking in the illegal wildlife trade.
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” in Africa 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). “ARREST” in Asia stands for Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking and is sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development Regional Development Mission for Asia. ARREST training is provided by Freeland.
Freeland is a frontline counter-trafficking organization that is the lead implementing partner of “ARREST” (Asia’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking), the largest US Government sponsored counter-wildlife trafficking program. For more info, visit www.freeland.org also; follow Freeland on twitter @FREELANDpeople or www.facebook.com/freelandfoundation.