A blueprint for success: What it takes to bring down a global ivory trafficking network

Today, the Wildlife Justice Commission published a new report detailing key events related to China’s largest ivory smuggling case. The report Bringing down the Dragon: An analysis of China’s largest ivory smuggling case, provides an in-depth case study of the inner workings of a wildlife crime syndicate and how Chinese authorities took it down by targeting the key facilitators and following the money. It also highlights how complex trafficking is and offers useful insights for law enforcement. 

The Chen organised crime group was a successful organised crime network, the kingpins, the untouchables. For several years they trafficked huge quantities of ivory by flying under the radar and eluding authorities through their corrupt connections. That all changed in late 2018 when Chen Chenzong, son of the Big Boss Chen Jiancheng, was arrested whilst dining out at a restaurant in China.

Chinese authorities caught onto the network and the key players. They targeted the corrupt facilitators, in this instance a corrupt Customs Officer. Then followed the money, eventually seizing the assets of the Chen organised crime group.

By December 2020, 17 members of the group had been convicted for their roles in trafficking 20.22 tonnes of ivory – equivalent to approximately 2000 elephants – from Nigeria to China. This case is a blueprint for law enforcement agencies investigating transnational organised wildlife crime.

The preferred trafficking routes used by the Chen organised crime group.

Why is the Wildlife Justice Commission releasing this report?

The Wildlife Justice Commission analysed the modus operandi of the syndicate and identified a set of 10 crime-enabling factors that facilitated their operations over at least a seven-year period. These factors demonstrate the complexity of transnational organised wildlife crime.

In the video below, Stephen Carmody, Director of Programs at the Wildlife Justice Commission, elaborates on these factors. The video emphasises the most important takeaways for readers to look out for in this report.