Following the wildlife traffickers’ money

The illegal wildlife trade is one of the most profitable criminal enterprises worldwide, but only recently has the focus shifted to investigating its financial flows

2021-12-03 10:00:00 PM

Following the wildlife traffickers’ money: The illegal wildlife trade is one of the most profitable criminal enterprises worldwide, but only recently has the focus shifted to investigating its financial flows

The illegal wildlife trade is one of the most profitable criminal enterprises worldwide, but only recently has the focus shifted to investigating its financial flows

, which is moved through South Africa to the East. Facilitators of wildlife crime and corruption include politically influential persons (domestic and foreign), diplomats, officials from the department of forestry, fisheries and the environment, the South African National Parks, the South African Police Services, the Special Investigating Unit and municipalities. Others are those employed in leisure, tourism and hospitality industry, veterinary surgeons, environmental practitioners, butchers and taxidermists.

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The use of the legal wildlife industry to mask illegal trade is prevalent and includes wildlife breeders, the hunting and taxidermy industries and legal wildlife trade exporters. Data mining shows deposit references such as “secret”, “happy”, crypto currencies, luno/VALR, complicated codes such as YISHANGLVYO-UXI5223630003110768; taxidermy; villa payment; hunting trophies; hunting package; MOOLA and names such as Lin, Chen, Liang, Gao, Huan and Qian.

Poachers are mostly paid in cash or “send-cash” options that create vouchers redeemable at retail till-points or ATMs. “Cash is the preferred and most frequently used method of payment as it minimises the risk of detection and allows for easier flows between legal and illegal economies,” the Samlit report reads.  headtopics.com

Cash is often laundered through the purchase of vehicles or boats (for abalone poaching) and the construction industry, where building materials are bought with cash, after which houses are sold legitimately. “Cash-in-transit and transport industries feature heavily in the illegal wildlife trade industry. Cash intensive businesses such as Chinese shops or markets easily combine illegal cash with other legitimate cash deposits,” says the report.

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Electronic fund transfers (EFTs) are primarily associated with people involved higher up in the supply chain. Syndicate leaders make payments to members for miscellaneous expenses, including vehicle hire and domestic accommodation, making it difficult to establish links to those involved in the trade based on transaction descriptions or references.

The report states that it’s hard to establish the main person controlling the syndicate because of the complexity of the transactions “where various business and personal accounts are used to co-mingle funds”, as well as the use of a spouse or relative’s account on the main member’s behalf. 

Front companies and enablers may appear to be legitimate, but the analysis of their transactions pointed to large incoming flows and showed few legitimate business expenses. Money mules are paid by a syndicate member to either allow them to take over their bank account or open a new bank account in their own name. “This way the syndicate can transact without being directly linked to crime,” says the report. headtopics.com

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Illegal wildlife trade funds move across borders through EFTs, money service businesses and informal remittance systems, particularly into offshore accounts, while casinos and retail stores are often used to transfer funds back into South Africa. 

Currency coming into South Africa is often American dollars and euros, while funds leaving the country are in American dollars, Canadian dollars, euros or Thai baht. This is moved out through cash smuggling and money transfer systems. Unusual cash deposits and EFTs into park rangers and other informers’ accounts and unusual cash spending for flashy or expensive items such as cars, houses and boats particularly in areas close to the

and other nature reserves “should ring alarm bells”, warns the report. (John McCann/M&G)Suspects caught for poaching or trafficking can seldom afford legal counsel or pay bail “but often end up doing so through support from higher levels in the syndicate”.

One respondent noted a case where vouchers (iTunes and Google Play) were purchased from a supermarket with cash to be sold online. “On raiding a property, the police confiscated rhino horns, as well as R2.7-billion worth of vouchers, which had been originally purchased via one supermarket,” stated the report.  headtopics.com

Prepaid cards (iTunes, Visa, phone cards) provide a “convenient and portable currency” whereby traffickers can pay for poaching and related services in source jurisdictions, and transfer funds internationally. Prepaid cards (iTunes, Visa, phone cards) provide a “convenient and portable currency” whereby traffickers can pay for poaching and related services in source jurisdictions, and transfer funds internationally.

Read more: Mail & Guardian »

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