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Viet Nam wildlife crime investigation: Public Hearing announced
15 September 2016, The Hague | Press Release

Download the press release here.

The Hague, 15 September 2016: Following a year-long investigation into wildlife trafficking hub Nhi Khe, Viet Nam the Wildlife Justice Commission will hold its first ever Public Hearing on 14 & 15 November 2016 at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands.

During the investigation our investigators observed directly US$ 53.1 million in parts and products of rhinos, elephants and tigers trafficked through a criminal network consisting of 51 individuals. Involving parts and products from up to 907 elephants, 579 rhinos, 225 tigers and other endangered species including: pangolin, bear, hawksbill turtles and helmeted hornbills.

Explaining the decision to hold a Public Hearing on this investigation, Olivia Swaak-Goldman, Executive Director, Wildlife Justice Commission, said:

“We have provided the Vietnamese authorities a detailed case file with everything necessary to prosecute these criminals and close down their operations. We have offered assistance and worked with stakeholders to encourage the Vietnamese authorities to act, but so far to no avail. The scale of criminality involved simply cannot be ignored. Our evidence shows that an amount of rhino horn equivalent to nearly half the rhinos poached annually in South Africa transits this village. Stopping this illegal trade requires urgent action.

We aspire to activate justice in a spirit of collaboration, but in the absence of action we have no choice but to present our evidence in a global public forum. We are confident that the impartial, international experts on the Accountability Panel will validate our findings and recommend concrete action to be taken by the Vietnamese authorities”.

Wildlife Justice Commission investigation overview: Illegal trade in CITES Appendix I species including elephant, rhino and tiger in / from Nhi Khe and associated locations in Viet Nam. Map of Facts delivered to Viet Nam (January 2016) and China (February 2016), with the supplementary, second Map of Facts delivered to Viet Nam and CITES (July 2016)

Our case file (Map of Facts), at over 5,000 pages plus audio and visual, was first presented to Viet Nam in January 2016  and China in February 2016. During our investigation, which took place over a period of 12 months and on multiple visits, our investigators observed directly:

  • US$53.1 million in rhino horn, ivory and tiger parts and products
    • US$42.7m in rhino horn, US$6.8m in ivory, US$3.6m in tiger parts and products
    • Involving parts & products from up to 907 elephants, 579 rhinos, 225 tigers
    • Plus other endangered species including: pangolin, bear, hawksbill turtles and helmeted hornbills
  • The 579 rhinos killed for the illegal trade through Nhi Khe alone represent almost 50% of the total amount of rhinos poached in South Africa in 2015
  • An alarming increase in the illegal tiger trade
  • The expansion of Nhi Khe as a transnational trading hub via social media
    • WeChat used to target Chinese clientele
    • Facebook used to target buyers in South east Asia and beyond
  • Evidence includes 17 Chinese bank accounts being used by traffickers to receive payments from Chinese buyers

Despite this overwhelming body of evidence, prepared by former law enforcement professionals for use by Vietnamese law enforcement authorities, followed by extensive diplomatic outreach and engagement of international stakeholders, the Vietnamese government has failed to take decisive action to close down this criminal network.

While we have observed that Vietnamese authorities have taken some steps to address the illegal open trade in Nhi Khe, our investigators found that behind closed doors and on social media all the key traders are still active. Moreover, crime has displaced to other locations near Nhi Khe and north of Hanoi.

In contrast, authorities in China – the main market for these products – have indicated they are taking this case seriously and have started a preliminary investigation. The Wildlife Justice Commission welcomes their willingness to act, and looks forward to the outcome of their investigation.

The Wildlife Justice Commission operates within the parameters of an Accountability Panel Procedure, and the Public Hearing is a mechanism designed to help activate justice once all other avenues have been explored.

Evidence from the investigation will be presented for validation, and experts and witnesses will be heard over two days to an independent, impartial panel of five international experts drawn from the Accountability Panel. The purpose is to present our evidence in public where it, and the failure of the government to take the necessary action, cannot be ignored. If the panel believes we have presented sufficient evidence they will validate the findings and put forward recommendations.

Note on limitations of reporting on evidence:

  • The summary facts shared merely highlight the extent of evidence contained in the original, and supplementary, Map of Facts
  • All evidence cited has been seen by our investigators directly, therefore the total trade via Nhi Khe is likely to be considerably larger than the quantities listed.

The Wildlife Justice Commission operates globally: five further investigations are underway and others are in review. A recent investigation in co-operation with Malaysian wildlife authorities, Perhilitan, led to the arrests of 12 traffickers across two transnational networks.

-Ends-

NOTES TO EDITORS

Visual assets on this investigation available via our website including:

  • Undercover video footage
  • Images of products from the investigation

Public Hearing on Nhi Khe, Viet Nam – further details available on the Public Hearing tab on our website

  • This will be the first Public Hearing held by the Wildlife Justice Commission
  • Details on how to attend, and media accreditation available on our website

Wildlife Justice Commission:

  • An international not-for-profit organisation based in The Hague, NL, and operating globally to disrupt and help dismantle transnational, organised wildlife crime.
  • The objective of our investigations is to activate justice. Sometimes this happens immediately while other investigations take longer if they require extensive national dialogue or even a Public Hearing.
  • Through leveraging the rule of law and solid investigations, to expose criminal networks and the corruption that enables them to flourish; helping to ensure governments effectively enforce their laws.
  • Our scope encompasses illegal trade by organised transnational criminal networks in endangered wildlife species, timber and fisheries