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UNODC hosts online investigation training for wildlife law enforcement officers

Vientiane, Lao PDR (12 September 2019)
- A group of officials from different government agencies and branches of law enforcement have finished four days of training on online investigations, hosted by UNODC. Officers from the National Police, the Environmental Police, the Customs Department, the Department of Forestry Inspection, and representatives from the office of the Supreme Public Prosecutor learned best practices used around the world to conduct online undercover investigations into wildlife crime. They heard presentations on topics ranging from undercover investigations to tracing wildlife crime on the darknet. This hands-on experience will help Lao officials apply online investigation techniques to their work combatting transnational environmental crime.

Wildlife crime is an increasing challenge in Lao PDR and Southeast Asia. Law enforcement agencies in the region have seized several multi-ton ivory shipments in recent years, which are classified as major shipments in the CITES context. Lao PDR has seen increased trafficking activity in recent years as the Chinese government has cracked down on wildlife crime within its borders. As a result, criminals and illicit markets have been diverted to Lao PDR and Myanmar, where there is limited capacity to monitor and investigate transnational organized crime.

Criminals are taking advantage of new technology and greater connectivity to facilitate their trade. According to a UNODC expert leading the course, "we are using different platforms as a source of information and also an investigation tool, because the traffickers that we've identified are using platforms such as Facebook, such as WeChat, such as Alibaba to facilitate their trade." At present, Lao law enforcement lack the capacity to conduct sophisticated online investigations. By learning to detect, investigate, and prosecute online wildlife crime, Lao officials will be better equipped to face the challenge presented by organized criminal syndicates in the 21st century. According to representatives from the Lao environmental police, the training allowed them to learn in depth how to conduct investigations, which will allow them to start integrating this approach into their work.

In order to maximize the benefit of this training, UNODC invited officials from across the Lao criminal justice system. One of the primary goals of the course is to facilitate cooperation between police officers, customs officials, and prosecutors, to enforce Lao law more effectively. A UNODC expert leading the course highlighted the importance of including officials from across the criminal justice system; "because this a whole new investigation technique, we need to have the prosecutors involved to identify what evidence that they can gather… from electronic devices that is admissible… in court, and it is within their legal framework to do so."

This training was held just weeks after Lao forensic police opened their first digital forensics lab with the support of UNODC's Global Programme on Cybercrime. Providing Lao officials with the training and tools to combat transnational environmental crime online is essential to reducing trafficking and trading in Lao PDR. A member of the Environmental Police mentioned that their department was working to implement online investigations and that "[this training was] very interesting… and will enable our department to carry out investigations more effectively." By continuing to build officials' capacity, UNODC and its partners are making a positive improvement to the Lao criminal justice system that will last for years to come.

This activity was designed, organized and implemented by the UNODC Global Programme (GP) for Combating Wildlife and Forest Crime. The GP is working for and with the wildlife law enforcement community to ensure that wildlife crime, illegal logging, and related crimes are treated as serious transnational organized crime. This activity was made possible through financial support from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs of the United Kingdom (UK) and the European Union (EU) under the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime ( ICCWC), in cooperation with the Government of the Lao PDR.