Presenting the case for tackling corruption and environmental crime at the 9th CoSP to UNCAC

At the Conference of the States Parties (CoSP) to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC), the Wildlife Justice Commission co-hosted a side event with Belgium, France, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), ‘Tackling corruption linked to environmental crime’. During this event, the Wildlife Justice Commission examined the learnings and good practices presented in its latest briefing paper Bringing down the Dragon: a synopsis of China’s largest ivory case and explored good practices in addressing corruption related to environmental crime.

The ninth session of the CoSP to UNCAC took place in Egypt from 13-17 December. The UNCAC is the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument, and this conference represents a valuable opportunity to strengthen language and policies around corruption enabling wildlife and environmental crime.

Tackling corruption linked to environmental crime

The Wildlife Justice Commission played an active part in the conference. On 17 December we co-hosted an official side event with France, Belgium and the UNODC. This event registration was restricted to CoSP participants, but the side event was recorded and is available to watch below.

At the event, the Wildlife Justice Commission examined best practices for tackling corruption-enabled wildlife crime, as presented in our latest briefing paper: Bringing down the Dragon: a synopsis of China’s largest ivory case. Connecting to the overall theme of the CoSP, the Wildlife Justice Commission discussed this briefing paper as an in-depth case study of the inner workings of a wildlife crime syndicate to offer useful insights for law enforcement and to highlight how complex trafficking is.

Other panellists explored best practices such as the need for international cooperation or private-public partnerships as concrete solutions to address environmental crime, in addition to discussing findings of a study prepared by the UNODC on the efforts to implemented UNCAC resolution 8/12.

China’s largest ivory smuggling case

In December 2020, the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in China convicted 17 members of an organised crime group (OCG) responsible for trafficking at least 20.2 tonnes of elephant ivory from Nigeria to China between 2013 and 2019. This is China’s largest ever ivory trafficking case, in terms of the quantity of ivory involved, the number of people arrested in the network, and the magnitude of the penalties.

The defendants included 16 Chinese nationals and one Malaysian national, while a further two Chinese nationals have since been arrested and are currently facing trial. The sentences ranged from two years up to life imprisonment with the confiscation of all personal assets, and individual fines up to RMB 5,000,000 (USD 770,273).

Analysis of smuggling methods

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.

The enablers in this case are systemic issues, relevant to many other wildlife trafficking cases, and key among them is the element of corruption. Corrupt customs officers and freight forwarding agencies played an important role in the trafficking of wildlife products across the supply chain.

The Wildlife Justice Commission plans to publish a full report on this case in early 2022, detailing the inner workings of this criminal network. Until then, this briefing paper aims to provide useful insights and examples of good practices for law enforcement efforts to combat wildlife trafficking.

At the co-hosted side event, our panel of experts discussed best practices for law enforcement and policy makers tackling corruption linked to environmental crime. A number of practical approaches were discussed, including:

  • Increased international cooperation
  • Public-private partnerships and collective action
  • Financial investigations related to wildlife trafficking
  • Use of special investigative techniques against wildlife crime

Maria Adomeit emphasized that: “Urgent action and political commitment are required if the global community is serious about protecting the planet. Interventions need to be rooted in the understanding that corruption can facilitate crimes that have an impact on the environment and can undermine responses to these crimes. Only when corruption is addressed, equitable and sustainable access to natural resources can be ensured.”

As part of the event, our Director of Programs, Steve Carmody, presented the learnings from our latest briefing paper: Bringing down the Dragon: a synopsis of China’s largest ivory case. “Chinese law enforcement authorities carried out extensive investigations into the Chen OCG over several years, including big data analysis, phone extractions and analysis, lifestyle profiling and financial investigations. Utilising these techniques, they were able to convict 19 members of the Chen OCG in the biggest ivory case in China.” said Carmody. “Greater utilisation of intelligence analysis, advanced investigation techniques and law enforcement cooperation across the supply chain are essential to effectively combat transnational organised wildlife crime and the corruption that facilitates it.”

Moderating the discussion, Wildlife Justice Commission’s Executive Director Olivia-Swaak Goldman remarked: “It is safe to state that without corruption, there would be no Environmental Crimes on the scale as we currently experience them. Through this special event, we urge you to address Environmental Crimes and the corruption that enables them. Now is the time to act.”

Missed the event?

Watch the event recording here: