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UNODC Training Seminar to Fight Environmental Crimes in Lao PDR Through Financial Investigations

Vientiane (Lao PDR), 6 February 2015
- "The Government is committed to preserve the rich biodiversity of Lao PDR. Yet much more has to be done to enforce the law and bring wildlife and timber traffickers to justice" stated Mr. Khamsan Souvong, Head of the Office of the Supreme People's Prosecution, during one of the three training seminars held in Lao PDR between January 26th and February 4th, 2015.

Jointly organized with and chaired by the Office of the Supreme People's Prosecution (OSPP), the training programme of three courses was conducted in the north, central and southern provinces of Lao PDR. It offered an opportunity for approximately 100 prosecutors, forestry officials and representatives of the Lao Financial Intelligence Unit to increase their capacity to prosecute money laundering offences linked to environmental crimes.

Lao forests and wildlife species have undergone extensive depletion over the past 30 years. The involvement of transnational organised crime groups in forest exploitation as well as wildlife trafficking is well documented. Frontline law enforcement officers are faced with a sophisticated adversary that hides itself behind a veil of legitimacy. Often the only way to unmask these organized crime figures is through the utilization of anti-money laundering legislation and financial investigative techniques. The scale of wildlife and timber trafficking entails the movement of large amounts of cash and inevitably money laundering. Therefore, conducting financial investigations is the most effective way to tackle these crimes. It is crucial to have regulations in place, to disseminate knowledge, and to encourage private sector institutions to report suspicious cash transactions to the Financial Intelligence Unit.

Representatives of the Anti-Money Laundering Office of Thailand took part in all 3 seminars to share their experiences in relation to successful investigations conducted in this field in 2014.

"I have been a prosecutor for more than 10 years and I have never come across a case of wildlife crime or money laundering. This workshop offered an opportunity to learn more about these two crimes" stated a participant during the discussion in Luang Prabang, emphasizing the importance of enhancing knowledge on the issue among pertinent authorities. "Despite the efforts, the rate of forest and wildlife cases reaching the prosecution stage remains below 2%. Convictions for these crimes are rare or non-existing. We hope that by developing the capacity to conduct financial investigations among law enforcement authorities the quantity and quality of court cases in this field will increase", said Giovanni Broussard from UNODC.

The training seminars were supported by the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau of the US Department of State.