UN-backed treaty, INTERPOL operation targets ‘most wanted’ environmental fugitives

18 November 2014 | News and Media

New York, 17 November 2014 – Nine fugitives are being pursued as part of a United Nations-backed joint INTERPOL global operation targeting individuals wanted for serious environmental – including wildlife – crime.

CITES is supporting INTERPOL’s Operation ‘INFRA-Terra’ (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest), targeting nine fugitives wanted for environmental crime, in particular wildlife crime. Credit: INTERPOL/CITES

CITES is supporting INTERPOL’s Operation ‘INFRA-Terra’ (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest), targeting nine fugitives wanted for environmental crime, in particular wildlife crime. Credit: INTERPOL/CITES

Operation INFRA-Terra (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest) is supported by the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), which is a collaborative effort of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Secretariat, INTERPOL, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Bank and the World Customs Organization. INTERPOL is leading the operation, which is the first of its kind.

“This first operation represents a big step forward in the first against wildlife criminal networks,” said Ben Janse van Rensburg, Chief of Enforcement Support for CITES in a press release today.

“Countries are increasingly treating wildlife crime as a serious offence, and we will leave no stone unturned to locate and arrest these criminals to ensure that they are brought to justice,” he added.

The initial phase of the operation will extend efforts beyond national borders and across range, transit and destination States in support of a collective global response to fight such crime.

The individuals targeted in the initial phase include, among others, Feisal Mohamed Ali, who is alleged to be the ringleader of an ivory smuggling ring in Kenya. The partners are asking for the public’s assistance in providing information that could help track down the suspects whose cases were selected for the initial phase.

“The public can play a crucial role in this collective effort, they our eyes and ears on the ground. Their support can help ensure that the offenders face the full might of the law and are punished appropriately,” Mr. van Rensburg said.

“Historically, countries have not drawn on these law enforcement tools to hunt down fugitives wanted for offences against our natural heritage. The CITES Secretariat applauds the governments that are making use of this mechanism and strongly support this initiative to combat wildlife crime and the kingpins behind it,” he added.

The ICCWC – with a contribution from the European Union – is offering technical and financial support for the operation.

CITES, with 180 Member States, regulates international trade in more than 35,000 species of plants and animals, including their parts and products. The Convention was signed in 1973.

Wildlife crime has become a serious threat to the security, political stability, economy, natural resources and cultural heritage of many countries. The extent of the response required to effectively address the threat is often beyond the sole remit of environmental or wildlife law enforcement agencies, or even of one country or region alone.

Indeed, in June, the joint UN Environment Programme-INTERPOL Environmental Crime Crisis report, pointed to an increased awareness of, and response to, the growing global threat, but calls for further concerted action and issues recommendations aimed at strengthening action against the organized criminal networks profiting from the trade.

According to the new report, one terrorist group operating in East Africa is estimated to make between $38 and $56 million per year from the illegal trade in charcoal. Wildlife and forest crime also play a serious role in threat finance to organized crime and non-State armed groups, including terrorist organizations. Ivory, for example, provides income to militia groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the Central African Republic.

Ivory similarly provides funds to gangs operating in Sudan, Chad and Niger.

Combined estimates from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UNODC, UNEP and INTERPOL place the monetary value of all environmental crime — which includes logging, poaching and trafficking of a wide range of animals, illegal fisheries, illegal mining and dumping of toxic waste—at between $70 and $213 billion each year.

Illegal logging and forest crime has an estimated worth of $30 to $100 billion annually, or 10 to 30 percent of the total global timber trade. An estimated 50 to 90 percent of the wood in some individual tropical countries is suspected to come from illegal sources or has been logged illegally.