The Diffusion of Heroin in Eastern and Southern Africa

This research report “A Shallow Flood: The Diffusion of Heroin in Eastern and Southern Africa(click hyperlink to access report) draws from and analyzes field data examining three characteristics of the illicit drug economy in a selected number of countries of eastern and southern Africa:

  • Price. This part of the data identifies the retail price (i.e. street price) for heroin in a given market location, and examines factors that influence retail price variations within a particular market, and between markets.
  • Distribution system. Identifying the means by which heroin is moved between wholesale and retail vending situations, and how it is moved within and between adjacent and/or distant markets.
  • Market structure. Identifying core structural components of domestic heroin markets in the region, with particular attention to those features that enable markets to emerge and flourish, as well as factors that disrupt or deteriorate these markets.

The flow of heroin from Asian production points to the coastal shores of eastern and southern Africa is not new. Whereas the first heroin transit routes in the region in the 1970s relied heavily on maritime transport to enter the continent, a number of transport modes and urban centres of the interior have increasingly become important features in the current movement of heroin in this region. Interior transit hubs and networks have developed around air transport nodes that use regular regional and international connections to ship heroin. As regional air routes proliferated and became more efficient, their utility and value for the heroin trade increased as well. Heroin is also consolidated and shipped over a frequently shifting network of overland routes, moving it deeper into the African interior in a south-westerly direction across the continent.

Consequently, a shallow flood of heroin has gradually seeped across the region, and this has had a significant impact on the many secondary towns found along the continent’s transcontinental road networks. These places, in turn, have spawned their own small local heroin markets, and become waypoints in rendering sustainable the now chronic, metered progression of heroin’s resolute geographic diffusion across the region.

The impact of this creeping spread of heroin on regional state development has been significant and, paradoxically, symbiotic. The emerging illicit African drug market environments may represent credible threats to the development and security of the region’s nascent independent state institutions and structures. At the same time, these markets have also presented new and considerable sources of economic livelihood and opportunity for the continent’s ever-expanding population of poor, disenfranchised and vulnerable people. A surrogate ‘drug working class’ has emerged as a socio-economic sequela to more traditional, yet increasingly limited, licit income opportunities.

The purpose of this report is to examine the diffusion of heroin across eastern and southern Africa. This will be achieved through an analysis of retail heroin prices, distribution systems and domestic marketplaces. The report provides an analytical summary of heroin market data collected across the countries of the region, with specific retail price points, commentary on domestic heroin distribution systems and structures, and a discussion of the common structural characteristics evident across the region that enable, embed and sustain these heroin markets.

Source: Authored by Jason Eligh, Global Initiative against Transnational and Organised Crime, 28 May 2020

Top Wildlife Detective Shot in Cold Blood

Recent good news reports indicating a decrease in rhino poaching have been marred by the sudden death of one of law enforcements top detectives.

Colleagues and friends of Lieutenant Colonel Leroy Bruwer are in shock after the leading rhino-poaching detective was gunned down in an apparent assassination.

Leroy (49), commander of the Hawks in Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit), was shot dead in his car on Tuesday morning while on his way to work.

The investigation is ongoing but according to a police statement, he was shot with a heavy-calibre weapon.

Pieter Smit, commander of the Mbombela police’s quick-response unit, says his heart broke when he arrived on the scene and saw his colleague and friend’s lifeless body.

“Hate, sadness and tears with mixed feelings,” Pieter, who was one of the first people to arrive on the scene, wrote on Facebook.

Leroy’s body had been unrecognisably mutilated by the AK-47 gunfire, Pieter continued his Facebook post. He says the only way he knew it was Leroy is because he called his friend’s number and saw the cellphone ringing in the car.

“It breaks the heart of a grown man. Leroy, you were an honest policeman and worthy officer. You didn’t deserve this.

“I salute you. Rest in peace, colleague and friend.” 

Brigadier Hangwani Malaudzi, Hawks spokesman, says a specialised task team has been formed to investigate the murder. “We’re hoping for a breakthrough soon.”

He adds Leroy was a formidable detective and made many breakthroughs in the fight against rhino poaching.

“All the evidence points to Leroy having been the target. It looks like an assassination,” Malaudzi says.

Police are following up on all leads to find the suspects.

Source: Picture and article by Jacques Myburgh, News24, 19 March 2020

Illicit Cigarettes – Hong Kong customs intercepts four shipping containers

Photo: Winson Wong

Hong Kong customs has uncovered HK$85 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in the largest seizure of its kind in two decades, after authorities acted on intelligence indicating a syndicate was shipping the haul into the city in four containers.

Some 31 million cigarettes were stashed in the containers from Yokohama in Japan. They were then shipped through different ports in South Korea, Vietnam and mainland China, according to Lee Hoi-man, deputy head of the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau under customs.

He said the circuitous route was used by smugglers to avoid detection.

“The containers were shipped into three to four different ports before they came to Hong Kong,” Lee said adding that the contents listed on import documents were changed to throw off law enforcement in various jurisdictions.

Four men – one mainlander and three Hongkongers – aged between 24 and 41 were arrested in the operation on Monday. They were still being held for questioning on Tuesday evening.

Information on the containers was shared to a global database operated jointly by customs from different countries, under an anti-smuggling campaign code-named “Project Crocodile”.

A law enforcement source said the containers were left idle at another port since December, but were then suddenly moved across different countries before arriving in Hong Kong, one at a time since last Friday.

Lee said: “It is possible smugglers believed our frontline officers were tied up in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.” He added that some of the contraband items were believed to be destined for countries in eastern Europe as some cigarette brands seized in the operation were popular there.

Hong Kong customs began investigating the syndicate in mid-December before identifying the four containers.

On Monday afternoon, officers from the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau swooped into action and seized 22 million sticks of cigarettes stashed in three containers at yards in Yuen Long, Sheung Shui and Man Kam To, arresting the four men.

At the Sheung Shui site, officers also seized 3,500 bottles of duty-not-paid liquor worth HK$2.5 million.

On Tuesday, the fourth container which had arrived from Shenzhen a day before was selected for inspection. Nine million cigarettes were found in it.

Lee said the combined haul had an estimated street value of HK$85 million, and was the biggest seizure of its kind in two decades in a single operation.

He said his team was working with overseas counterparts to determine the exact origin of the shipment and track down the ring leader and core syndicate members.

In Hong Kong, importing or exporting unmanifested cargo carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$2 million fine.

Source: Article by Clifford Lo, South Morning Post, 18 February 2020

OECD – Recommendations on Tightening Controls over Free Trade Zones

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has drawn up recommendations on free trade zones (FTZs) in a bid to stop them being used for illicit trade.

The new guidance – published towards the end of last month – recognises the importance FTZs can play in facilitating globalised trade and stimulating economic growth, but also that they can make life easier for “increasingly sophisticated traffickers dealing in a range of prohibited goods and services including counterfeits.”

One problems with many FTZs is that they are operated by licensed private companies – or sometimes public-private partnerships – which can sometime lead to a disconnect between FTZ internal policies and the laws and regulations laid down by the governments in whose jurisdiction they operate.

The OECD notes also that some with some FTZ the authorities struggle to get physical access to the premises, while obtaining information on the activities of organisation operating within – such as the ownership of goods in transit – can be a challenge.

The result? Some economic operators may “take advantage of inadequate oversight, control and the lack of transparency in FTZ to commit trade fraud, intellectual property rights (IPR) infringement, smuggle contraband, facilitate the proliferation of weapons and launder the proceeds of crime.”

The agency’s recommendations reaffirm the need for law enforcement and other competent authorities to have direct supervision of trade through FTZs, which includes the right to demand access to information related to the production and movement of goods and carry out inspections.

Authorities must also ensure that the organisations operating FTZs are aware of their legal obligations to counter illicit trade.

It has also developed a voluntary Code of Conduct for Clean Free Trade Zone operators, including “strict control of consignments arriving from, or for which there is evidence of having transited through, FTZs that do not implement the code.”

“While FTZs produce economic benefits to their local economies, there is strong evidence that illicit trade (e.g. counterfeits, wildlife and arms) flows through them,” says the OECD.

There is “a positive correlation between the size of FTZs – in terms of employment and numbers of firms – and the value of illicit trade in counterfeits.”

Source: OECD

‘Flying out of Africa’, an essay on China -Africa relations

cina-africa-focac

The following article featured in BusinessLive (eEdition) on 25 July 2019. It is authored by John Grobler. The article was compiled with the financial support of Journalismfund.eu’s Money Trail grant programme. 

Chinese ‘lying money’, or fei qian, is an ancient form of value exchange. But its modern incarnation is blamed for stripping Africa of its resources.

The secret of Chinese commercial success in Africa, as suggested by an 18-month investigation into the drugs-for-abalone and rosewood trade and a major Namibian tax fraud case, is an ancient system that not only allows African countries to be robbed of taxes, but also plays a part in financing the global $270bn-a-year wildlife contraband trade.

Fei qian, or “flying money”, dates back about 1,200 years, to the Tang Dynasty in China. In its simplest modern incarnation, it is a low-cost and trusted method of remitting money, much like the Islamic hawala system. For example, a person who wants to send funds to a recipient in Africa will pay a fei qian broker in China. For a commission, the broker will arrange that a counterpart in Africa pays the recipient, again for a commission. The two fei qian brokers later settle their account through, for example, the transfer of commodities of equivalent value — but also sometimes through less salubrious methods such as transfer mispricing or invoice manipulation.

In practice, the system relies on the systematic underinvoicing of Chinese imports into Africa and a seamless chain of payments system in which accounts are settled through the transfer of high-end — and often illicit — goods such as abalone, rosewood, rhino horn and ivory. In brief: goods are undervalued on their import documentation; they are then sold for cash; and that undeclared cash is subsequently channelled into high-end commodities that are remitted to China to balance the fei qian books.

“The trick behind fei qian is that the money never actually leaves China,” says a former Singaporean finance expert, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It’s just the commodities that get moved around” as part of a longer payment chain among the Chinese diaspora.

Unlike barter trade, fei qian is not a straight swap; it is an exchange in stored value that leaves no paper trail, except in the books of the fei qian operators themselves. What makes the system even more impenetrable, the investigation has found, is that these operators mostly seem to be older, well-established women working in a closed network of mutually trusted contacts.

This nexus, and lack of paper trail, means fei qian is largely invisible. But it occasionally appears as a gaping hole in a country’s balance of payments account with China – as Namibia has discovered in an ongoing import-tax fraud investigation.

Jack Huang, a business associate of President Hage Geingob, and Laurentius Julius, a former Walvis Bay customs official and now a customs clearing agent, are among eight suspects facing 3,215 charges of fraud and money laundering in the Windhoek high court. Continue reading →

Singapore seizes tusks from 300 elephants in ivory haul worth $12.9 million

Authorities in Singapore have stopped a shipment of almost 9 tonnes (9.9 US tons) of ivory, the largest seizure of its kind in the nation’s history. The 8.8-tonne (9.7-US ton) haul was passing through Singapore on its way from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Vietnam, according to a joint statement from the Singapore Customs, Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) and the National Parks Board released Tuesday.

There were also 11.9 tonnes (13.1 US tons) of pangolin scales among the illicit cargo, the third such shipment to be intercepted in Singapore this year.Three containers said to contain timber were inspected as they passed through Singapore on July 21, revealing the huge illegal cache.

Authorities say the ivory, with tusks from nearly 300 elephants, is worth $12.9 million; the pangolin scales, estimated to have been taken from around 2,000 Giant Ground Pangolins, would fetch around $35.7 million.

Pangolins are solitary animals that have an armor of scales, which are coveted for “cultural and ethno-medicinal purposes,” according to the statement. They are also hunted for their meat.

The seizure takes the total weight of pangolin scales stopped in Singapore to 37.5 tonnes (41.3 US tons) in 2019 alone. Singapore previously seized 177 kilograms (390 pounds) of ivory in April.

In Africa, poachers kill tens of thousands of elephants a year for their tusks. Much of the demand for elephant tusks comes from China, where ivory is still seen by some as a symbol of luxury and wealth. 

“Around 55 African elephants are killed for their ivory a day, their tusks turned into carvings and trinkets,” Tanya Steele, chief executive at World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement.

Source: CNN, Jack Guy, 24 July 2019

The human cost of Africa’s illegal logging industry

Logging in Africa

Tuesday Reitano, Deputy Director, Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime and Riana Raymonde Randrianarisoa, ENACT consultant and independent journalist have published the following article concerning illicit logging in Africa –

Across the continent, illicit logging undermines peace and security and attracts exploitation. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Gambia to Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar and Namibia, recent ENACT research has highlighted that illicit logging operations are exposing the continent’s communities to environments marred by serious labour and sexual exploitation. Young people are particularly affected.

Africa’s forestry sector is notoriously under-regulated. Leading UK think tank, Chatham House has estimated that in most forested countries in Africa, 80% to 100% of all trees felled could be done so illicitly.

This is due to a combination of factors, including highly limited state capacity for forestry governance and contestation between federal, local and traditional authorities over land ownership and usage. Limited awareness and weaknesses in law enforcement and customs also contribute to the problem, as do corruption and bureaucratic systems of issuing permits and licenses.

As a consequence, illicit interests and criminal actors have infiltrated logging supply chains across the continent, further diverting efforts for legitimate oversight. These dynamics are examined in an upcoming ENACT research paper.

Timber extraction, by its nature, is a hazardous occupation. But with illicit, unregulated and informal logging, safety risks increase – often with fatal consequences.

A TRAFFIC report examining the illicit logging industry in Madagascar, for example, estimated that three out of every 10 loggers in the industry die in workplace-related accidents. Madagascar is currently under a complete logging moratorium, so all aspects of the trade are illicit and shrouded in secrecy. A local Malagasy politician confirmed to ENACT researchers that high mortality rates at logging sites have become a major issue, because most of the wood cutters and transporters are not from local populations.

‘Bosses recruit them from other villages or other districts because it is easy to have control over them,’ explained the president of a local conservation NGO, adding that when workplace deaths occur at logging sites, timber fellers and transporters often have to bury their fallen colleagues in the forest to avoid detection.

The Namibian charcoal market, where approximately 6 000 people are employed, is characterised as ‘informal and fragmented, mired with the exploitation of workers and preventable environmental degradation.’ The subcontractors are remunerated according to the quantity of charcoal they produce. The financials are structured in a way that makes it impossible for these subcontractors to turn a profit, let alone to harvest within the law.

Charcoal workers often come from Namibia’s poorest region, Kavango, and find themselves caught in systems of debt bondage – whereby their payments can never repay the ‘debts’ they accumulate to their employer.

Landowners procure charcoal production and transport permits and provide the equipment needed to log, but then offset these costs against the worker’s production. In this region, entire families often live on site and become reliant on charcoal production. This pattern is replicated on logging sites across the continent. In many instances, foreign firms have aggressively infiltrated artisanal supply chains; capturing licenses and concessions intended for small-scale community use and forcing locals into exploitative contractual arrangements.

The illicit logging sector has also become rife with child labour, which can be viewed as a form of human trafficking. The prospect of quick earnings in unstable economic climates often incentivises families to take children out of school during timber harvests.

Profits from the logging industry may at first seem appealing and offer a greater promise of a future than education. However, scores of young men who are recruited into log transport operations have lost limbs, faced extended hospitalisation or been fatally injured on the job. Young girls are equally at risk. Community health officers in a logging community have commented on spikes in pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted infections during logging season, along with widespread sexual abuse.

ENACT research indicates that that sex work is pervasive across informal and illicit timber sites across the continent, as it is in other informal and under- or unregulated industries.  Loggers in Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and the Gambia have confirmed allegations that under-age girls from as far away as Nigeria are often forcibly trafficked to logging sites in these regions for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

Trafficking groups provide false identification, claiming that the girls are local residents and legal adults. If police or law enforcement unit asks about the girls, traffickers may attempt to evade law enforcement action by claiming that the girls are consenting adults. Our research in logging sites, however, suggests a very different reality. Girls are trafficked against their will, under false pretences, and are held in situations where they are sexually exploited and brutally abused.

While much has been written about the negative impact of illicit logging, the focus is usually on the environmental damage and financial losses caused by the increasingly criminal practice. The human cost – in terms of the degradation of human rights, quality of living and prospects for communities living and working in and around illegal logging sites – is often overlooked. Yet the exploitation and abuse on Africa’s youth may have long-lasting negative consequences for the continent’s development.

Initiatives to promote Africa’s forestry sector, which is frequently highlighted as a potential engine for economic growth, must go beyond simply maximising trade. They must also guarantee safe, viable and sustainable livelihoods for those employed in the sector.

Source: ENACT, 10 July 2018., by T.Reitano and R.Raymonde Randrianarisoa

High Tech Game Park – “Connected Conservation” reduces Rhino poaching by 96%

High Tech Game Park

Almost the size of Pretoria, this 62,000 hectare private reserve on the border with Kruger National Park has upped its game against poaching.

What was once an operation with a handful anti-poachers patrolling an electric fence and hiding in watch towers has now been turned into a 21st century fortress in the bush.

This is all thanks to a pilot project called “Connected Conservation“, a collaboration between 48 private lodge owners, the tech company Cisco, and Dimension Data, the data solutions company.

While there had been great initiatives to protect the rhino over the years, these were reactive and the number of these animals being killed were increasing at an alarming rate. By combining tech thermal imaging cameras and thumb-print scanners with things like sniffer dogs, the reserve tracks the movement of people before they get close to endangered animals.

Since it began in 2015, the upgrades have brought about a 96% reduction in rhino poaching incursions, as well as reducing illegal incursions into the reserve by 68%. Key to the success has been reducing ranger response time from 30 minutes to 7 minutes.

Source: Business Insider, original article and photo by Caboz, J, 9 May 2018.

Egypt foils attempt to smuggle 6 tons of cannabis from Syria

Egypt’s Ministry of Interior confirms that it has foiled a plot to smuggle a large shipment of cannabis weighing 6 tons into the country through the Mediterranean Sea on board a ship.

The Ministry said in an official statement that the efforts of its security services are continuing to abort the schemes of dangerous elements seeking to import and smuggle narcotics into Egypt.

It pointed out that early investigations of the General Directorate for Drug Control confirmed the intention of a gang to smuggle a large amount of cannabis stored in Syria to Egypt.

The crew of the ship managed to set sail from the Syrian port of Lattakia for landing off the coast of Egypt, but Egypt’s maritime security prevented them from doing so.

The ministry added that in light of the information available about the movement of the smugglers, they moved to the south of Crete to avoid arrest by the Egyptian authorities.

The ministry said that the concerned bodies coordinated with Greek authorities and provided them with information on the movements of the ship to be seized.

The coordination resulted in the Greek authorities seizing the ship and the cargo and arresting its crew of six persons with Syrian nationality.

The search of the ship resulted in the seizure of a total of 6 tons of cannabis hidden inside secret stores. Source: Egypt Independent, 9 December, 2017

How SA’s abalone ends up on China’s plates

Abalone Shells

Oxpeckers’ environmental investigative journalist, Crystal Chow,  digs up the dirt on the illicit abalone trade.

Abalone tops the list of the most exquisite seafood in Chinese cuisine, and fresh South African abalone are always the first choice for feasts in Cantonese restaurants, where one fresh abalone alone can cost up to HK$2,000 (about R3,000). In recent years, the overfishing and smuggling of wild abalone has pushed this endemic species of the South African coast towards extinction.

“The South African wild abalone are heavier, and they are better than the farmed Japanese and Australian ones in terms of fresh flavour and texture,” said Chit-yu Lau, general manager of Ah Yat Abalones restaurant in Hong Kong. “Our fresh South African abalone are all imported through legitimate channels. The smuggled ones are usually dried, and are rare in Hong Kong.”

Nonetheless, the illicit abalone trade has been gathering significant attention from conservationists combating wildlife trafficking, who believe the profitable contraband market of abalone is linked to the black market of ivory and rhino horns – both of which are driven by high demand from the Chinese market. To read the full story Click here!

Source: oxpeckers.org, author – Chow. C, June 9, 2017.

SA Donkeys ‘ferry’ illicit vehicles into Zimbabwe

Police are on high alert looking for a syndicate that uses donkeys to smuggle luxury cars across the Limpopo River into the Zimbabwe.

Thieves tied ropes to the cars which were hitched on to the donkeys to pull the cars across the river.

Some cars are driven through the drier parts of the river. On Tuesday, a Mercedes Benz C220 was intercepted before it disappeared into Zimbabwe.

“Our members were just in time to pounce on them after the donkeys were apparently no longer able to pull it through the sand,” Brigadier Motlafela Mojapelo  for the SA Police Service said.

The suspects fled into the bushes towards Zimbabwe side. Most of the cars are being smuggled across the river through the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe, south of Beitbridge border post.

In December, police recovered a Hilux bakkie when thieves attempted to smuggle it through the river. The bakkie was stolen in Durban.

It was semi-submerged in the water when Limpopo police commissioner Lieutenant-General Nneke Ledwaba spotted it from a helicopter while he was leading a high-density operation in Musina and Beitbridge.

The vehicle and donkeys were abandoned in the middle of the river and the suspect fled into Zimbabwe. It is not clear why the thieves do not simply driver the car into Zimbabwe – one reason might be that most modern cars are fitted with a tracking device which uses satellite tracking to locate a vehicle, if stolen. The tracker is only active when the car is running.

Mojapelo said 13 vehicles have been recovered since January this year. Thieves target luxury bakkies, SUV’s, specifically Toyota and Isuzu. Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are the two provinces that are mostly affected.

Last week, four vehicles were recovered. A Range Rover worth R900 000 was recovered after police intercepted it at the Beitbridge border post. The vehicle was en route to Malawi. The man was arrested and was found in possession of cash with an estimated amount of R30 000.

Mojapelo said the car had Limpopo registration numbers, but it was still unclear where it was stolen. Source: Pictures – SAPS and article – Iavan Pijoos, News24, 2 August 2017.

Argentina Customs Fraud – Similarities to Venezuela

Arg-aduana

A customs fraud that allegedly allowed a criminal network to steal millions from Argentina’s government looks eerily similar to how some of Venezuela’s private businesses and corrupt government officials have also benefitted from that Andean nation’s efforts to manipulate currency values.

Argentine authorities conducted 23 simultaneous search warrants and arrested 10 individuals accused of defrauding the state by more than $300 million between 2012 and 2015, according to a July 11 press release by Argentina’s Security Minister.

The scheme was rooted in the difference between the dollar’s official value against the Argentine peso and its informal black market price. Authorities claim that 55 front companies were used to falsify Anticipated Sworn Declarations of Importation (Declaraciones Juradas Anticipadas de Importación – DJAI). These documents allowed import companies to buy dollars from the government at a subsidized price in order to buy foreign goods. Argentina’s previous administration artificially boosted the value of a peso, so an official dollar was worth much less than on the black market. But under the scheme, DJAIs were produced for goods that were never imported and with the sole purpose of buying cheaper official dollars, before selling them at a much higher price on the black market exchange.

The investigation, initiated last year after an official complaint from the director of Argentina’s customs agency, focuses on a network of textile companies owned by members of Buenos Aires’ Korean community, according to Infobae.

Infobae, which described the well-structured network integrated by professional accountants as a “mafia,” notes that not a single official has been charged for corruption, even though the official press release admits that bribes were paid.

The scheme currently investigated in Argentina illustrates how organized crime can profit from government monetary policy, as well as a good dose of corruption.

The sum involved may appear large, but other regional country’s losses to such frauds are measured in percentages of the gross domestic product and reach the highest levels. In Guatemala, for example, corruption reached as high as the president, who was directly leading and benefitting from a vast customs fraud, according to government investigators prosecuting the case.

Argentina’s case, however, appears to have more similarities to Venezuela. Indeed, the latter’s government control of currency exchange rates and the sale of dollars was exploited to embezzle as much as $70 billion in a decade, reported The New York Times. And following a regional pattern, corruption stood as a primary factor enabling these frauds.

Source: InsightCrime.org and WCO IRIS Portal

Record 7,2 Tonne Ivory Seizure in Hong Kong

Customs officers in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tons of ivory from a shipping container arriving from Malaysia on July 4.

The seizure was made at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound, and once its weight is confirmed, the haul could become a record seizure – the largest ever recorded in the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) database – narrowly surpassing the 7.138 tons seized in Singapore in 2002.

According to a government media release, the consignment was declared as “frozen fish” and the tusks hidden beneath frozen fish cartons.

The massive seizure underlines both Malaysia’s and Hong Kong’s role as key smuggling hubs in the international trafficking of ivory. Three people – a man and two women were arrested in connection with the seizure.

The ETIS database is managed by the NGO TRAFFIC on behalf of Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It contains tens of thousands of elephant-product seizure records dating back to 1989.

Under CITES guidelines, any seizure of 500kg or more is considered indicative of the involvement of organized crime. All parties making such large-scale seizures are obliged to examine them forensically as part of follow-up investigations.

Dr Yannick Kuehl, TRAFFIC’s Regional Director for East Asia, said, “No doubt Hong Kong’s geographic location coupled with the currently relatively lenient penalties in place for anyone convicted of wildlife crime are reasons behind the shipment coming through the port. The case for increasing penalties has never been stronger.”

Hong Kong is currently reviewing its legislation regarding wildlife crime and the Legislative Council is currently debating plans to phase out the territory’s domestic ivory trade over the next five years, a timescale that is out of step with neighboring mainland China which intends to end its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. Source: Maritime Executive/TRAFFIC/HongKong Government – Photo’s: Alex Hofford/WildAid.

Zim Revenue Scourge – porous borders lose millions

cigarettes

The Zimbabwe Herald suggests that Zimbabwe could be losing millions of dollars in unpaid taxes due to rampant smuggling of cigarettes into South Africa, investigations by this paper have revealed.Between 2014 and 2015, local customs officials seized nearly 2 500 cartons worth around $500 000 in taxes, according to the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority.

Figures from the South African side are staggering, showing a wide discrepancy in the value of confiscated contraband between the two neighbouring southern African countries.

The South African Revenue Service told The Herald Business that it had seized R87 million (US$6,2 million) worth of Zimbabwean cigarettes since 2014, or 95 million sticks.

This will likely be worth millions of dollars in evaded tax in Zimbabwe, but the ZIMRA director for legal and corporate services Ms Florence Jambwa said the figures were difficult to determine because smuggling was an underground trade.

South Africa, however, says it loses an estimated R40 million (US$2,9 million) to cigarette smuggling each year, on the average, more than half of it Zimbabwe-related.

And this is just from what is on public record. Customs officials from both countries admit the figures could be higher. Both are also greatly incapacitated to detect illegal trades quickly.

“It is difficult to measure the levels of smuggling as this is an underground activity mostly done through undesignated entry points,” said ZIMRA’s Jambwa, by email.

“The value of the potential loss cannot be easily ascertained,” she said, failing to provide an estimate.

Tax analyst Mr Tendai Mavhima said the figures from ZIMRA represent only a small portion of the actual amount of money Zimbabwe is losing to trafficking of cigarettes.

“The disparity in figures (ZIMRA and SARS figures) indicate there are problems in controls on either side, which may result in the revenue and tax losses from both countries being understated,” he said by telephone.

Zimbabwe is the world’s fifth largest producer of tobacco after China, the USA, Brazil and India.

The country produces flue-cured Virginia tobacco, considered to be of extremely high quality and flavour, according to a report on Zimbabwean tobacco companies by local stockbroking firm, IH Securities.

As such, Zimbabwean tobacco ends up in many top cigarette brands across the world, it says.

It is especially popular in China, the largest importer of Zimbabwean tobacco, and in South Africa, the country’s largest trading partner.

In South Africa, Zimbabwean cigarettes are on demand for two key reasons: high quality and affordability.

It costs just $1,50 for 20 sticks in Zimbabwe compared to $3,20 for the same number of sticks in South Africa, according to estimates by regional economic bloc, SADC.

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) said: “Cigarette clientele opt for cheaper cigarettes. The high supply and demand for illicit cigarettes creates the market for it.”

South Africa imposes very high taxes on cigarette imports – about 80 percent meaning many Zimbabwean dealers choose to export illegally.

SADC says illegal dealers supply nearly two thirds of the number of cigarettes smoked by South Africans.

In 2011 alone, at least 4 billion cigarettes smuggled into South Africa originated from Zimbabwe, it says.

The undeclared cigarettes are usually concealed in trucks, buses and other vehicles destined for South Africa by organised cartels, said Florence Jambwa of ZIMRA.

Sometimes the cargo is shipped at undesignated points on the porous border between the two countries. Source: Zimbabwe Herald

WCO addresses a “Ministerial Lekgotla” as an introduction to the CITES Conference in Johannesburg

kunio-addressing-cop17At the invitation of the South African Minister of Environmental Affairs, Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya addressed a “Ministerial Lekgotla” held in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 23 September 2016 as an introduction to the CITES CoP 17 World Wildlife Conference.

During the high-level panel session, Secretary General Mikuriya focused on the role of Customs in facilitating legal trade and intercepting illegal trade in wildlife and on its link to CITES and Sustainable Development Goals.

He highlighted the WCO Declaration on the Illegal Wildlife Trade, which had been adopted in 2014 and aimed at drawing the attention of policy makers to environmental crime and at raising the priority of Customs operations in this area.

He also referred to the INAMA project (started in 2014) for technical and capacity building assistance for Customs on risk management, collaboration with other law enforcement agencies and institution building to enhance integrity.  Cooperation with the transport industry was also part of the WCO efforts to improve compliance, as exemplified in the Royal Foundation Task Force Declaration on Transport, adopted earlier this year.

The presence in Johannesburg of high-level delegations also provided an opportunity for the Executive Heads of the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC) to meet in order to further enhance the collaborative work with the CITES Secretariat, INTERPOL, the UNODC, the World Bank and the WCO.

Fianlly, Secretary General Mikuriya also had a series of bilateral meetings with key partners, including with Executive Director Erik Solheim of the United Nations Environment Programme. Source: WCO