Bangkok, 6 December 2022 – To turn up the heat on international traffickers of wildlife and timber, more than 90 law enforcement and criminal justice specialists from 32 countries met in Thailand last week to resume their annual collaboration through the Wildlife Inter-Regional Enforcement, or WIRE, initiative to improve on the exchange of information regarding investigations that can be used to prosecute transnational criminal syndicates.
This sixth iteration of the UNODC-led meetings, which launched in 2016, took place from 30 November to 2 December. It offered a platform for specialists from three continents to deepen their relationships and discuss their ongoing cooperation on interception, investigation and prosecution of wildlife and forest crime cases.
Police, prosecutors, wildlife and forest officers and customs officials from 13 African countries and 11 Asian countries were joined for the first time by counterparts from 5 Latin American countries, thus extending the reach of their countertrafficking efforts. Representatives from countries in other regions participated as observers.
The WIRE meeting opened with senior officials from the criminal justice systems representing the three continents emphasizing the value of the bridges they are building among each other. Two attorneys-general, Liz Patricia Benavides Vargas from Peru and Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda from Malawi, reiterated the important role of well-trained prosecutors and strong legal frameworks to adjudicate serious cases of wildlife crime. Representing the community of customs authorities, the Commissioner General of Maldives Customs, Abdullah Shareef, stressed the necessity of cooperation to improve the interdiction capacity of all countries in the supply chain of the illegal wildlife trade. And Pol. Lt. Gen. Prachaub Wongsuk, Assistant Commissioner General of the Royal Thai Police, highlighted that wildlife crime must be investigated as a serious form of organized crime.
The WIRE included a three-day series of working groups and restricted-access bilateral meetings, establishing formal and informal information sharing channels for these specialists to contact one another for the real-time cooperation required for seizures and investigations. The WIRE working groups looked at how to collaboratively focus on transnational cases, including through joint investigations, controlled deliveries and financial investigations, as well as making better use of the tools of judicial cooperation, such as Mutual Legal Assistance, to improve the investigation and prosecution of transnational criminals. They also exchanged details on new risk indicators, trends and red flags along the illegal wildlife supply chain.
After a briefing on the success of the Operation Mekong Dragon IV in the Asia–Pacific region, customs officials from West, Central, Eastern and Southern African countries agreed to consider a future operation in partnership with the Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices in Africa, with UNODC support.
In more than 50 bilateral meetings, national authorities discussed recent and previous cases in closed sessions as well as the potential for joint investigations targeting syndicates of mutual interest across regions. Several of the bilateral meetings led to the decision to submit official requests for Mutual Legal Assistance to obtain crucial evidence for ongoing prosecutions and investigations in different jurisdictions, not only in relation to offences related to wildlife trade but also focused on money laundering offences.
Delegates from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda participated in bilateral meetings with other countries from Central and Southern Africa as well as Asia. The meeting between Kenya and a Southeast Asian country led to awareness of common smuggling techniques unknown to the delegates previously. This resulted in an updating of their respective risk indicators to profile future consignments involving the two countries. Other bilateral meetings led to information-sharing on stalled cases and the exchange of contact details.
Delegates from Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa engaged with other African as well as Asian and Latin American counterparts in police, customs and prosecution discussions. Led by its Attorney-General, the bilateral meetings of Malawi resulted in commitments on the exchange of evidence through the Mutual Legal Assistance channel provided by bilateral and multilateral treaties.
Delegates from Viet Nam attended 11 bilateral meetings, while delegates from China had 10 closed-door discussions, and the Thai delegates engaged with 9 countries.
“I have been to several such international meetings before,” said one of Thai delegates, “but never before have I had the opportunity to discuss so many concrete cases bilaterally and face to face with so many countries.”
To maintain the momentum of the WIRE meeting, participating authorities agreed to increase their cooperation, conduct joint operations and keep communicating across borders.