Operation Phoenix

Successful interventions required detailed investigations and documentation. The 18-month long Operation Phoenix produced a comprehensive 5,000-page case file, exposing an industrial scale criminal hub of transnational wildlife trade in Viet Nam, being run from a small village not far from Hanoi.

The investigators identified 51 people at the heart of the trafficking networks. They calculated that they had seen more than a ton of rhino horn being sold in Nhi Khe, accounting for up to 579 rhinos and worth USD 42,700,000. Often it is claimed that the animals are being trafficked for medical applications, but investigators found the vast majority of rhino horn in Nhi Khe was being turned into jewelry and decorations.

They also detailed how the operations were being managed, including the use of local contacts and translators, as well as online sales through Facebook and WeChat.

The delivery of the case file did not prompt sufficient action in Viet Nam, so we convened a Public Hearing in The Hague, the Netherlands, to publicise the details of the investigation and encourage the government to act.

The Public Hearing, overseen by an Independent Review Panel, is an instrument designed by the Wildlife Justice Commission, to bring wider international attention when national authorities do not act upon the intelligence the investigators provide. When the details of Operation Phoenix were presented at the hearing in The Hague, action soon followed in Viet Nam and an on-going, productive relationship has since been built with the authorities in Hanoi.

One of the major rhino traffickers and head of one of the five syndicates identified in the area, was arrested at the end of April 2017 and indicted within ten days. The arrest of such a high-level trafficker was unprecedented, and the speed at which he was indicted even more so.

Investigators, who have since returned to Nhi Khe, have been told that business is bad, and arrests are more commonplace and the trafficking industry that was flourishing there a year ago has been almost entirely shut down. More details of this extensive investigation can be found in our Operation Phoenix briefing.