Tag Archives: illegal trade

Tracking Illegal Ivory: the Forensics

Carbon_14_formation_and_decay. Image from wikipedia

The atmospheric carbon left over from nuclear bomb testing could help scientists track poached ivory, new research has found.  These bomb tests changed the level of carbon in the atmosphere, which can be traced to date elephant tusks…Scientists say the findings, published in PNAS, could make it easier to enforce the ivory ban.The number of elephants being poached is now at the highest it has been for two decades, according to a UN backed report.  This was highlighted in January when a family of 11 elephants was slaughtered in Kenya, their tusks hacked off with machetes.

Traditional radiocarbon dating determines the age of ancient objects by measuring the amount of carbon-14 (C14).  The approximate time since an organism died can be measured from the amount of C14 left in its remains. But remains from after the Cold War contain higher levels of C14 due to the nuclear bombs.  In a new study Dr Uno and colleagues used this increase in carbon to date herbivore samples, which they matched to corresponding points on the bomb-curve

In the 1980s, more than half of Africa’s elephants are thought to have been wiped out by poachers. This led to an international ban on trading ivory in 1989….Scientists have found that radioactive carbon in the atmosphere emitted during the Cold War bomb tests will make it easier to distinguish between illegal ivory–that acquired after the 1989 ban– and legal ivory– that acquired before the 1989 trade ban.  The amount of radiocarbon in the atmosphere nearly doubled during nuclear weapons tests from 1952 to 1962, which steadily dropped after tests were restricted to underground. This has been dubbed “the bomb-curve”.

The levels have declined since but as they are still absorbed by plant, they enter the food chain and are measurable in plant and animal tissues.  The concentration of radiocarbon found in tiny samples of animal tissue can accurately determine the year of an animals death, from 1955 until today, Kevin Uno from Colombia University, US, explained to BBC News.  “This is different to the traditional dating technique which takes advantage of the loss of radiocarbon through time.”  Traditional radiocarbon dating would only be able to pick up an “imperceptible amount of decay” added Dr Uno, but because the bomb spike doubled the concentration or carbon, they were able to find huge variations over the last 60 years, which enabled accurate dating.Dr Uno said this technique “would dovetail very nicely with DNA testing which tells you the region of origin, but not the date”.  As anti-poaching funding is extremely limited, understanding where the poaching hotspots are, as well as how old the tusks are, could help the international community to direct funding to the places most at risk, he added…

These wildlife forensics are ready to roll, now we need to speak to the organisations who can set up a programme to make it happen.”

Excerpts, Melissa Hogenboom, Carbon from nuclear tests could help fight poacher, BBC News, July 1, 2013

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Black Wood: 100 ways to finance the criminal cartels who decimate tropical forests

The report – Green Carbon, Black Trade (2012) – by UNEP and INTERPOL focuses on illegal logging and its impacts on the lives and livelihoods of often some of the poorest people in the world set aside the environmental damage. It underlines how criminals are combining old fashioned methods such as bribes with high tech methods such as computer hacking of government web sites to obtain transportation and other permits. The report spotlights the increasingly sophisticated tactics being deployed to launder illegal logs through a web of palm oil plantations, road networks and saw mills. Indeed it clearly spells out that illegal logging is not on the decline, rather it is becoming more advanced as cartels become better organized including shifting their illegal activities in order to avoid national or local police efforts. By some estimates, 15 per cent to 30 per cent of the volume of wood traded globally has been obtained illegally…

The much heralded decline of illegal logging in the mid- 2000s in some tropical regions was widely attributed to a short-term law enforcement effort. However, long-term trends in illegal logging and trade have shown that this was temporary, and illegal logging continues. More importantly, an apparent decline in illegal logging is due to more advanced laundering operations masking criminal activities, and notnecessarily due to an overall decline in illegal logging. In many cases a tripling in the volumes of timber “originating” from plantations in the five years following the law enforcement crack-down on illegal logging has come partly from cover operations by criminals to legalize and launder illegal logging operations….

Much of the laundering of illegal timber is only possible due to large flows of funding from investors based in Asia, the EU and the US, including investments through pension funds. As funds are made available to establish plantations operations to launder illegal timber and obtain permits illegally or pass bribes, investments, collusive corruption and tax fraud combined with low risk and high demand, make it a highly profitable illegal business, with revenues up to 5–10 fold higher than legal practices for all parties involved. This also undermines subsidized alternative livelihood incentives available in several countries.

[It is important to discourage] the use of timber from these regions and introducing a rating og companies based on the likelihood of their involvement in illegal practices to discourage investors and stock markets from funding them.

Excerpts from Nellemann, C., INTERPOL Environmental Crime Programme (eds). 2012.Green Carbon, Black Trade Illegal Logging, Tax Fraud and Laundering in the Worlds Tropical Forests. A Rapid Response Assessment United Nations Environment Programme

Illegal Logging and Organized Crime

Every two seconds, across the world, an area of forest the size of a football field is clear-cut by illegal loggers.1 In some countries, up to 90 percent of all the logging taking place is illegal.2 Estimates suggest that this criminal activity generates approximatel US$10–15 billion annually worldwide—funds that are unregulated, untaxed, and often remain in the hands of organized criminal gangs. Thus far, domestic and international efforts to curb forest crimes have focused on preventative actions, but they have hadlittle or no significant impact. While prevention is an essential part of enforcement efforts to tackle illegal logging, it has not halted the rapid disappearance of the world’s old-growth trees. New ideas and strategies are needed to preserve what is left of forests.

This paper suggests that current practice be combined with a more targeted, punitive approach, through more effective use of the criminal justice system. It argues that the criminal justice system should form an integral part of any balanced and organized nstrategy for fighting forest crime. This strategy should include initiatives to enhance the efficiency of criminal justice in combating illegal logging—that is, the investigation, prosecution, and conviction of cases, as well as the confiscation of the proceeds of criminal activity. These initiatives should be deployed in parallel with preventive programs, and the two approaches should complement and reinforce each other.

The criminal justice system has been used in the fight against illegal logging, but only in very sporadic instances and in limited and ineffective ways. Moreover, in those few cases, it has tended to target low-level criminals whose involvement in illegal logging is due to poverty. As such, it has created no real deterrent and has encouraged skeptics to further discount the relevance of criminal justice methods. Large-scale illegal operations are carried out by sophisticated criminal networks, and law enforcement actions need to be focused on the “masterminds” behind these networks—and the high level corrupt officials who enable and protect them. Pursuing these important targets through the criminal justice system will require creativity and a clear focus on those criminal justice rules and procedures that prove most effective…..

Because the role of the criminal system in fighting illegal logging has thus far been minimal, there are few documented successes, and little data to explain why the criminal justice system has not been more widely used in this context. To find new ideas as to how the criminal justice system can be used against illegal loggers, this paper therefore draws on experience gained from dealing with other types of crime (money laundering, corruption, and so forth).

The policy and operational recommendations made in this paper are based on legal and operational frameworks that are already in place in almost every country in the world. By making good use of these existing frameworks, we can take an important step towards ensuring the preservation and the sustainable management of the world’s forests.

Policy recommendations:

■ Develop an integrated criminal justice strategy for illegal logging that adopts and implements clear and comprehensive policies. To be effective, the strategy must target high-level corruption and the companies that pay bribes. It must aim for successful investigations, prosecutions, and the confiscation of the proceeds of crime. The strategy should include clear objectives and an assessment process for tracking progress….

■ Improve domestic cooperation. Domestic cooperation between agencies involved at different stages of the fight against illegal logging should be strengthened….

■ Enlist the private sector. When looking into the financial dimension of forest crimes, financial institutions and other entities obligated to report suspicious transactions to financial intelligence units need to be fully mobilized. This can be done through implementing due diligence measures and by monitoring transactions made by politically exposed persons (PEPs) and actors in the forestry sector…  Enhanced due diligence applies to PEPs in recognition that by virtue of their position, there is an increased risk of money laundering.

■ Engage civil society actors. . .

■ Include criminal justice as part of development assistance programs to combat illegal logging. …The implementation of anti-money laundering measures, as well as other steps suggested in this paper, should be included as part of country assistance strategies.

Operational recommendations….

■ Follow the money. Illegal loggers can be convicted of money laundering related to many different predicate crimes. This can result in additional jail time and/or fines above those imposed for the underlying forest crime. Furthermore, asset confiscation deprives criminals of the fruits of their crimes and makes it more costly for them to continue their operation.

■ Enforce anti-money laundering and due diligence requirements. Regulators should strictly enforce know your customer and due diligence requirements— particularly those for enhanced due diligence in the case of transactions of PEPs and suspicious transactions within the forestry sector. Regulators should also enforce compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF)

Excerpts from Executive Summary, “Justice for Forests Improving Criminal Justice Efforts to Combat Illegal Logging” by Marilyne Pereira Goncalves et al., (Wolrd Bank, 2012)

The Illegal Trade in Endangered Species and the Chinese Demand

Philippine authorities have seized large shipments of anteater and turtle parts in a sign that the illegal trade in the endangered animals is booming, officials said Wednesday (Jan. 4, 2012).  Fifty-eight pounds (26.5 kilograms) of Philippine pangolin, or anteater, about to be smuggled to Manila as goat meat was confiscated Wednesday at the Puerto Princesa city airport in southwestern Palawan province, said Alex Marcaida, an environment official.  On Monday, 209 pounds (95 kilograms) of pangolin scales and 200 pounds (90.5 kilograms) of scutes from endangered hawksbill and green turtles were seized at the same airport, he said. That shipment, which had a market value of nearly 1 million pesos ($23,000), was declared as dried fish.

Pangolin is a Chinese delicacy. Its scales are used in Chinese traditional medicine.  Turtle scutes — the plates that cover the shells — are used to decorate guitars and other products.  Marcaida said it’s possible traders are increasingly turning their attention to Palawan, home to many exotic wildlife, for pangolin meat because the animal’s population has been vanishing in other parts of Southeast Asia due to hunting and deforestation.   The International Union of Conservation of Nature said rising demand for pangolins, mostly from mainland China, and lax laws are wiping out the unique toothless anteaters from their forest habitat in Southeast Asia.  The animals are protected by laws in many Asian nations, and an international ban on their trade has been in effect since 2002. But these measures have had little impact on the illicit trade, the IUCN said.

The IUCN lists the Philippine pangolin, which is endemic to Palawan, as close to becoming a threatened species.  But Marcaida, who is from the government’s Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, said the Philippines considers the mammal a threatened species because of the continuing illegal trade.  He said the strict monitoring of trading in live pangolin may have prompted traders to try to smuggle them as meat and scales. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of pangolin scales sells for 5,000 pesos ($114).  The same traders may be behind the two shipments, Marcaida said, adding that no arrests have been made and the investigation is ongoing.  The shipper of Wednesday’s haul left the cargo with an airport porter, while Monday’s shipment, which was bound for central Cebu city, went through a courier company, he said.

By TERESA CEROJANO, Philippines seizes meat of endangered anteaters,Associated Press,Jan. 4, 2012

The Dirty Fight for the Rhino

They used to rely on snares, poison and shotguns to kill rhinos for their horns. Now international crime syndicates are arming poachers with night-vision goggles and AK-47 assault rifles as the price for rhino horn surpasses gold.  When the crackle of gunfire signals the death of yet another rhino, radios squawk to life here in South Africa’s flagship Kruger National Park and soldiers ready for pre-dawn patrols.  “They’ve become very aggressive,” Ken Maggs, head of the South African government environmental crime investigation unit, said of the poachers. “They leave notes for us written in the sand, warnings. That indicates it is an escalating issue … They are coming in prepared to fight.”

The government of South Africa, home to 90 percent of the rhinos left on the continent, is fighting back. Since more than 140 troops were deployed in April, the number of rhinos killed in Kruger has dropped from 40 in March and 30 in April to 15 in May and just two in June. Fifteen alleged poachers also have been killed this year, and nine suspects wounded in gunfights.

Still, rhino carcasses with mutilated faces are becoming a common sight in African wildlife parks. The hacked-off horns are destined to be smuggled to China and Vietnam, where traditional medicine practitioners grind them up for sale as alleged cures for everything from fevers to arthritis and cancer.  The horns have become so valuable that thieves this year started stealing rhino exhibits in European museums. The going rate is up to $44,000 a pound (60,000 pounds a kilogram) according to the London Metropolitan Police department.  Even in the United States, police in Denver have arrested members of an Irish syndicate trying to smuggle rhino horn.  “Aside from Central and South America, every region of the world appears to be affected by criminals who are fraudulently acquiring rhinoceros horns,” warned John M. Sellar, enforcement chief of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. “Government officials are being corrupted. Money-laundering is taking place,” he said…..

Conservationists have failed to persuade traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and consumers that rhino horn has no medicinal value. Some link the upsurge in rhino poaching to a 2007  Chinese government decision to promote traditional medicine as alternative medicine grows increasingly popular in the West as well. Until then, South Africa was losing about 10 rhinos a year to poachers.

Trophy hunting in South Africa is compounding the problem. More than 100 white rhinos were killed under permit here last year. The Department of Environment did not respond to questions about permits issued this year.  So tempting are the rewards that veterinarians and game ranchers – the very people supposedly dedicated to conserving wildlife – have been arrested in recent months for alleged involvement in the rhino horn trade….

Making Horn Trade Legal:  “If farmers were making a profit out of rhinos they would have the will to guard them against poachers,” said rancher John Hume, owner of the largest number of privately held rhino in the world. “Instead, they are siding with the poachers because a rhino is worth more dead than alive.”  He said some farmers “just contract with an illegal dealer, shoot the rhino, bury the body, take the horn. It pays him to kill it.”

Excerpts from, Michelle Faul , Troops fight rhino poachers, http://www.iol.co.za, July 23, 2011