In 2022, Operation Mekong Dragon IV (OMD IV), a joint investigative operation involving law enforcement officers in several countries in Asia and the Pacific, led to increased seizures of illicit drugs and wildlife products intercepted during their illegal transboundary journeys.
To date, 1,362 drug and wildlife cases have been recorded in the World Customs Organization central database—the Customs Enforcement Network Communication Platform ()— including 78 wildlife and flora cases, 1,267 drug cases and 17 precursor cases.
Initiated by China and Viet Nam customs administrations in 2018, OMD is now in its fourth year.The Operation targets the transboundary trafficking of illicit drugs and wildlife by air, sea and land routes in the Asia-Pacific region. Specifically, during the operational phase, customs and other law enforcement authorities are on heightened alert for shipments of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, ketamine, pangolins (and their scales), turtles, tortoises, rhino horns and ivory, with the support of UNODC and the Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Asia and the Pacific of the World Customs Organization (RILO AP).
“Thanks to the concerted efforts from all of us, OMD IV has achieved great success. There were 1,362 reported cases in OMD IV, a year-on-year 57% growth and the highest number since the beginning of OMD. It signifies how active we were in this operation provides abundant materials for us to analyse and research on the trends and traits of trafficking in Asia Pacific.” Noted Mr. WANG He, Deputy Director General of the Anti-Smuggling Bureau of the General Administration of China Customs.
During the debriefing of the operation, participants observed a decreasing trend in seizures of wildlife and timber alone in 2021-2022, which the OMD IV's Operational Coordination Unit (OCU) attributed to tightened controls over passenger and air parcel delivery, a lesson learned from OMD III where a great deal of wildlife and its products seizures were from passenger concealment and mail delivery.
Collaborating in the joint operations were 27 law enforcement agencies from 24 member countries and territories in Asia and the Pacific, including specialized drugs and wildlife law enforcement authorities from Singapore and Australia.
Thanks to the coordinated enforcement customs work, Malaysia Customs in 2022seized 4,559 kg of ivory, 112 kg of pangolin scales, 308 kg of tiger parts and 27 kg of rhinoceros horn in a single case. The Malaysian agency also seized 676 kg of methamphetamine in a single case. Hong Kong Customs seized 6,540 kg of red sandalwood in a single case, while Thailand confiscated 379 logs of red sandalwood timber after a tip-off from China Customs. Viet Nam Customs seized 2,000 kg of sea cucumber and 573 kg of seahorses in separate cases.
Tao Zhiqiang from UNODC’s Global Programme on Crimes that Affect the Environment lauded Operation Mekong Dragon and encouraged all customs administrations to conduct follow-up investigations. “We must take a crime-scene-to-court approach to dealing with transnational organized crime. Only then will we be able to truly disrupt the whole criminal chain,” he said.
The planning for Operation Mekong Dragon V will be discussed in February 2023 with the participating agencies.