A Multi-billion Dollar Market
Worldwide, illegal wildlife trade is one of the most profitable forms of illicit trade. It is a transnational organized crime forming a multi-billion dollar industry across national borders. IWT has been valued at up to $23 Billion (USD) annually. This is part of a wider category of environmental crimes, worth up to 258 Billion.
Corrupt actors at all levels, from park rangers to senior govenrment officials, play an important role in facilitating the global illegal wildlife trade. The OECD report documents the role that corruption plays along the trade chain.
OECD officials interviewed over 100 individuals from Government, NGOs, Foreign Delegations and other backgrounds for this study. The countries of focus are recognized as source and transit countries of Illegal Wildlife Trade.
The study focused on examples and case studies from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia
Corruption: an invisible force at the heart of a transnational crime
Interviews with experts and officials yielded a number of corroborated cases that highlights the modus operandi of poachers and wildlife traffickers in source and transit countries. From the evidence produced, it is clear that corrupt actors are central to the existing criminal strategy in illegal wildlfie trade.
Corruption crimes are not well documented. Typically, officials have been convicted, faced civil penalties or have been dismissed for their involvement in the poaching, sale or facilitation of wildlife crimes. Corruption related offenses and prosecutions are often not charged.
Along the trade chain, corrupt actors are in play from the instance of poaching until export. Bribes can be paid directly for facilitating the crime, or simply to ensure that no attention is paid to the activity or shipment in question.
In the criminal justice system, when traffickers face arrest, they will deploy resources and tactics, paying off officials in key positions to prevent a fair trial and conviction.
The nature of corruption makes data nearly impossible to collect. Therefore, the study relied on research, open source media mapping and interviews to identify the most important corruption risks along the trade chain.
In the field, park rangers and scouts are the first line of defense against poachers, but also the most vulnerable.
Park officers and rangers face strong challenges to monitor large portions of the country designated as conservation areas.
Corruption poses a significant risk in the field, as conservation officers are spread out, far from the centralized headquarters of management authorities.
Factors such as low or unstable pay; rotation of officers, and inadequate training and lack of internal integrity review or monitoring mechanisms contribute to increasing corruption risks among rangers in the field.
Officers have been caught assisting poachers, providing information or location data, or in some cases, offering their weapons and ammunition to assist in the hunting and killing of endangered species.
This is just the start of a global supply chain of corruption. From the kill to final sale, bribery is pervasive, and financed through transnational organized crime. Countries must do more to address this crime through international co-operation.
Major transport hubs are high-value choke-points for illegal wildlife trade, and corruption
At airports and major shipping ports, products such as ivory and rhino horn, pangolin and bushmeat are smuggled through corrupt networks of security officials who accept payments or are pressured into allowing goods to leave the country. According to global customs data, 60% of seizures occur at airports.
Acts of corruption can be brazen. In one instance, authorities reported that a corrupt official simply cut the electrical cord on a functioning x-ray machine to avoid detection of a shipment.
In other cases, well co-ordinated networks of corrupt actors work to facilitate the export of illicit goods in exchange for payments and bribes.
At airports, channels at airports such as "VIP" lanes and diplomatic channels pose risks of exploitation in the countries studied.
At major commercial shipping ports, certain corrupt officials and private sector freight-forwarder operators are known to conspire to facilitate the export of willdlife products, but they are not limited to just wildlife. Corrupt actors are known to faciltiate a number of other forms of illegal activities, from narcotics to human trafficking.
Investigators and Prosecutors face important challenges from corrupt actors
After arrest, actors in the illicit trade chain go into "survival mode" and begin to bribe, threaten and co-erce at the highest possible levels. This includes bribery via legal representatives and family members to investigators, prosecutors and even magistrates, involving greater sums of money.
Broken chains of custody, and loss of critical court documents or exhibits, delayed cases and easy granting of bail are all recognized to be potential likely manifestations of corruption
Other important gaps are equally, if not more important, however. Investigations that focus on illegal wildlife trade are generally limited, and do not benefit from multi-agency expertise or co-ordination.
Prosecutors' awareness and capacities to convict wildlife traffickers are also constrained by factors such as resource constraints, awareness and training for specific wildlife cases.
To complement its ongoing work on illegal wildlife trade, the OECD has begun to collect and map out a series of data sets related to the transnational flows of illegal wildlife products.
The OECD collected a number of references to corruption and illegal wildlife trade in the media. just over 300 cases of individual corruption instances in relation to Illegal wildlife were documented through open source reporting.
The OECD mapped these corruption risks through a geographic information system tool to display where these are most common, and what are the corruption narratives.
32% of the cases involved police officers
19% were government administrative officials
7% park rangers
While in the open source, the limited data collected provides a basic understanding of where corruption is taking place, and what levels of actors are typically involved in the reported cases.
OECD also worked with data from the World Customs Organisation (WCO) on seizures for Illegal Wildlife Trade.
The data, composed of over 10,000 seizures recorded by a number of customs administrations around the world helps paint a picture of where seizures take place around the world.
The data also points to important gaps in data consistency and collection and the uneven and non-standardized reporting of wildlife crime worldwide.
OECD Work on Illicit Trade
Under the Aegis of the OECD High Level Risk Forum, the Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade promotes cooperation for tractable policy solutions to illicit trade in all its forms. Other studies from the Task Force include global estimates on the value of counterfeits, and works on the governance frameworks to counter illicit trade.
the OECD will continue to work on adding more data complement existing research.
A programme of work on East Asia is underways, where the OECD Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade is studying the institutional gaps that facilitate illegal wildlife trade in Southeast Asia. This next report will be available in 2019.
Cover illustration ©Jeffrey Fisher Photo Credits ©Touran Reddaway http://www.tembacollection.com/rhino-conservation/