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Criminal justice response to wildlife crime in Malaysia


Malaysia is a hub for the lucrative international trade in illegal wildlife and timber. The country's law enforcement is very active against domestic offenders, and given the right institutional context, it has the potential to step up its operations against transnational crime. However, it needs to improve the coordination between regional authorities, and make better use of the nation-wide customs and police forces.

Bangkok (Thailand), 3 November 2017 - Malaysia has long been a transit point for the illegal trade of wildlife and timber. In the past two years it has seen a substantial increase in the seizures of African ivory and pangolin scales, as well as testudines - turtles, tortoises or terrapins - from South Asia. This is good news, but it also highlights Malaysia's disturbing central role in the international trade.

Between 2003 and 2014, nearly 20 percent of ivory seized worldwide was on its way to, from, or in Malaysia. Many cases also indicate that Malaysia is not only a transit point for this contraband, but is also the scene of consolidation and re-export activities, with at least some complicity from officials in the supply chain. Onwards trade seems largely towards China, Vietnam and Thailand.
The authorities have made several arrests, but more needs to be done against the international organized crime elements running this trade.

The country is also known for its own vast forests teeming with wildlife, which is also subject to trafficking, notably the Malayan tiger, clouded leopard, Sunda pangolin and sun bear. It is thus fighting the trade on two fronts: domestic and international.

Law enforcement on wildlife crime is divided between the respective authorities of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak, which operate under an extensive framework of legislation.

Enforcement capacity in Peninsular Malaysia is particularly strong, and includes good communications and the latest investigation techniques. But there is room for improvement across the country, notably in the use of specialized equipment and the centralization of intelligence.

Arrests that have been made seem to focus on low-level couriers, which does little to dissuade the trade. There have been relatively few in-depth investigations and no documented controlled deliveries, which would allow more and higher-level prosecutions than is currently the case. There is also little done to investigate money laundering related to these crimes, which could be more effective than ad hoc seizures.

Two nation-wide agencies could be of greater assistance here: the Royal Malaysian Customs Department (RMCD) for the controlled deliveries; and the Royal Malaysian Police (RMP) for more advanced transnational investigations.

National coordination would be further improved by the formation of a time-bound multi-agency task force combining the field expertise, enforcement capacities and legal skills of the different agencies, and could be a game changer in Malaysia.

Click here to read the full report.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on wildlife and forest crime in the region.