Archives For Vietnam

Exposing the Hydra - IvoryDespite being the focus of numerous investigations and exposés regarding the country’s role in the international illegal wildlife trade, Vietnam continues to be a primary hub for ivory trafficking.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) has released a report Exposing the Hydra: The growing role of Vietnamese syndicates in ivory trafficking documenting the findings of a two-year undercover investigation. (Download the full report at this hyperlink).

Investigators successfully infiltrated several ivory trafficking syndicates operating in Mozambique, South Africa, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, building a detailed picture of how these criminal organizations are structured, how they cooperate with one another and how they also traffic other endangered species such as rhinos and pangolins.

In contrast to China, which closed its domestic legal ivory market in January and stepped up enforcement against ivory trafficking, the Government of Vietnam has not demonstrated serious commitment to tackling wildlife crime, says the organization. Instead, the past decade has seen Vietnam serve as a prominent transit route for large ivory shipments to China as well as overseeing a growing carving industry and one of the world’s biggest markets for ivory sales.

The report states that since 2009, 56 tons of ivory have been seized in Vietnam and a further 20 tons linked to Vietnam seized in other countries. This is equivalent to ivory sourced from approximately 11,414 elephants.

EIA estimates that since 2015 the ivory traffickers identified during the course of their investigation have been linked to seizures totalling 6.3 tons of ivory and 299 kilograms of rhino horn, including the recent record seizure of 50 rhino horns in Malaysia in August 2018. Between January 2016 and November 2017 there were at least 22 successful shipments of ivory from Africa, with an estimated weight of 19 tons and potential revenue of $14 million.

Source: EIA International and Maritime Executive, 16 September 2018

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Vietnam-Ivory

Vietnamese authorities have seized nearly three tonnes of ivory hidden among boxes of fruit, officials said on Sunday, the latest haul to spotlight the country’s key role in the global wildlife smuggling trade.

Police in the central province of Thanh Hoa found 2.7 tonnes of tusks inside cartons on the back of a truck that was on its way to Hanoi, according to their website.

“This is the largest seizure of smuggled ivory ever in Thanh Hoa province,” the report said.State media said the elephant tusks originated from South Africa.

The truck driver claimed he was unaware of what he was transporting, according to a report in state-controlled Tuoi Tre newspaper.

The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

There are now believed to be some 415,000, with 30,000 illegally killed each year. Prices for a kilogramme of ivory can reach as high as US$1,100 (Dh4,040).

Vietnam outlawed the ivory trade in 1992 but the country remains a top market for ivory products prized locally for decorative purposes, or in traditional medicine despite having no proven medicinal qualities.

Weak law enforcement in the communist country has allowed a black market to flourish, and Vietnam is also a busy thoroughfare for tusks trafficked from Africa destined for other parts of Asia, mainly China.

Last October, Vietnam customs authorities discovered about 3.5 tonnes of elephant tusks at Cat Lai port in Ho Chi Minh city, all in crates of wood, including a hefty two-tonne haul packed into a single shipment.

In 2015, 2.2 tonnes of tusks, originating from Mozambique, were discovered and seized northern Hai Phong port.

And last week authorities in Hong Kong seized 7.2 tonnes of ivory, the largest haul in the city for three decades.

While low level couriers are sometimes arrested across Asia very few wildlife trafficking kingpins are brought to justice. Source: The National

Vietnam Ivory Seizure

Customs officers in Vietnam seized more than two tons of elephant tusks, eight days after confiscating an ivory shipment weighing nearly a ton, authorities said. Picture: Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

Customs officers in Vietnam seized more than two tons of elephant tusks, eight days after confiscating an ivory shipment weighing nearly a ton, authorities said on Monday.

The estimated 4.4 million dollars worth of ivory was disguised as logs and hidden within a shipment of timber from Nigeria.

The cargo was posted to the same company listed as the receiver for nearly a ton of elephant tusks and rhinoceros horn from Mozambique that was discovered on August 13, said Ho Xuan Tam, Da Nang Customs Department spokesman.

Company officials have denied wrongdoing.

The poaching of elephants and rhinoceros and the trafficking of their tusks and horns are outlawed under international efforts to protect endangered species. But the illicit trade from Africa to Asia has grown with rising prosperity creating demand in Vietnam and China.

While elephant ivory is valued for its aesthetic appeal, folk superstitions prize rhino horn for its supposed medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities.

A single gram of ground rhino horn possesses a street value of 133 dollars. Rhino killings reached a record 1 215 last year, 10 times the number killed in 2009, according to the conservation group WildAid. Source: IOL

Illicit IvoryFrench customs officials said they had intercepted 136 kilos of ivory shipped from the Democratic Republic of Congo en route to Vietnam — the biggest haul in nearly a decade.

Officials at Paris’s main Charles de Gaulle airport found a dozen elephant tusks chopped into 37 pieces hidden in cases under aluminium plates, possibly to confuse scanners.

The haul is the biggest seized by French customs officials since December 2006, when 600 kilos of “white gold” was uncovered.

“This is a sadly typical case,” said airport customs official Sebastien Tiran. There’s one thing that never goes out of fashion and that’s ivory,” he told AFP.

There were “several criteria” that alerted officials to the possibility of smuggling, he explained. “The route, what is declared, documents linked to the declaration.”

Ivory ornaments are coveted in Asian countries like Vietnam, Thailand and China, and activists say Africa’s wild elephants are being pushed to extinction by the trade. Source: Customs Today

High quality 3D render shipping container during transportIn a bid to tackle overweight containers at its ports, Vietnam is seeking to address this issue with domestic legislation on container weighing practices. This is in contrast to the International Maritime Organisation, which had agreed on an amended rule that would see shipping containers being weighed before they are loaded onto ships – a rule which will come into effect in 2016.

Weighbridges have since been installed at Vietnamese ports, container yards and even highways to monitor weights of containers for both importing and exporting. A new law was endorsed in 2014 by the Vietnamese government that limited the total weight of 20 and 40ft containers to a maximum of 20 tonnes, including the weight of the container itself.

Containers found to violate the weight limits are likely to incur a fine. Source: Port Technology International

black-rhino-2Rampant poaching in Africa is a cause of major concern to wildlife organizations. Many rhinos are killed every year mainly for Asian markets. In Vietnam, rhino horn is believed to be miraculous, able to heal cancer.

A total of 158 rhino have been poached since the beginning of the year, according to the South African Department of Environmental Affairs. Over 630 rhino were killed by poachers in South Africa during 2012.

If the killing of rhinos continues to increase, African wild rhinos could disappear within a few years. The best protected rhinos live in Kenya. Four of them, known as northern white rhinos, are the last of their kind. Each one of them has four bodyguards to guarantee its survival. But most of the other 25,000 rhinos in Africa do not enjoy such protection. The trade in rhino horn is illegal. However it is flourishing, most of the horn coming from South Africa, where most rhinos live. Hunters are willing to pay up to 20,000 euros ($26,000) to shoot a rhino and take the trophy home.

Rhino poaching on the rise

Rhino poaching has increased tenfold in the last five years, according to the nature and animal protection organization World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The conference singled out Vietnam as the main importing country and Mozambique as a major transit country for rhino trafficking. This is the first time that countries were named at CITES.

Vietnamese believe that rhino horn powder can cure cancer

The two countries now have a few months’ time to address the problem constructively. Mozambique is poor but CITES’ regulations are also valid there. To learn how to fight against poachers effectively, the country may seek advice from environmental and conservation organizations. In the case of Vietnam, lack of political will seems to be the major problem. Even Vietnamese embassy staff were involved in the illegal horn trade. Vietnam is now under pressure. By January 2014, Vietnam as well as Mozambique have to prove that they are able to fight against horn trafficking from southern Africa, or else sanctions will be imposed.

Superstition hikes the price

In addition to stricter controls, the WWF and other animal welfare organizations are implementing awareness campaigns. In Vietnam there is a belief that the powder from the horn of the rhinoceros can help against fever, prevent a hangover or even cure cancer. These claims however, are dismissed by scientists. The horn consists of the same material as fingernails and hair. Nevertheless, Vietnamese are willing to pay more than 40,000 euros per kilogram, more than the price of gold.

Thousands of wild rhinos have been killed and their horns trafficked to Asia

South African biologist Duan Biggs says awareness campaigns and banning illegal trade control will not help to solve the problem. Shortly before the CITES conference, Biggs, together with three other scientists, wrote in the journal “Science”, calling for the legalization of the horn trade. “We have a buffer of a very healthy population of rhinos to work with,” Biggs said. He is convinced legalization is the right course to take. If that doesn’t work, it can always be stopped again. “If we wait longer and the current situation continues, we will lose the opportunity to try an alternative strategy.”

Legal breeding instead of illegal slaughter

Since horn grows like fingernails, rhinos should be bred specifically for the horn trade. The horn could be cut off when the animal is under anaesthetic. That way the animal doesn’t suffer pain. This is done to a quarter of the animals living in South African private game reserves, where dead animals’ horns are not allowed to be sold. If these horns are legally harvested and put on the market, prices and poaching would decrease, argues Biggs.

The WWF and many other organizations vehemently opposed the legalization theory. A boom in demand and even worse poaching could result if horns are on the market in large quantities and at cheaper prices. “A change from the elite-trend to mass-trend will be like lighting a fire that will be difficult to extinguish”, said a WWF spokesperson.

The dynamics of illegal rhino poaching paint a vivid reality. Is this really any different of narcotics and money-laundering, human-trafficking and counterfeiting? I think not. In many instances its the same ‘operators’ at play preying on weak human instinct and a complete lack of morals!  On the other hand I suppose, based on the reasoning of scientist Biggs, one could say legalising narcotics and prostitution would be the ‘right thing to do’ since we have a “buffer of healthy unemployed woman and youth” ???

rhino-1Dawie Groenewald of South Africa and 11 conspirators were arrested in September of 2010 on 1,872 counts of racketeering, including illegal trade of rhino horns. Among those arrested are two veterinarians, Karel Toet and Manie Du Plessis, as well as several professional hunters. This case is one of the biggest wildlife cases seen in South Africa and has been postponed several times since 2010. It is currently scheduled for early May 2013.

Groenewald owns a big game farm in Polokwane, South Africa as well as Out Of Africa Adventurous Safaris. A burial site of over a dozen horn-less rhinos was found on his property in 2010. Investigators show that these rhinos are thought to have been purchased from the South African National Parks in 2007-2010. In order to increase his profit margin, Groenewald decided to slaughter the rhinos after removing their horns; thus eliminating any upkeep costs associated with live rhinos.

Rhino horns are worth up to $60,000 per kilo in parts of East Asia, namely China and Vietnam. They are thought to possess medicinal value, including curing cancer and small ailments such as fevers and headaches.  Rhino poaching in South Africa has been rising steadily over the past several years. According to South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs, approximately 588 rhinos were poached in 2012. One could point to China and Vietnam’s increased affluence as having increased this demand.

Investigators have so far seized $6.8 million in assets from Groenewald, Toet, and Du Plessis. They also uncovered Valinor Trading CC, a “closed company” Groenewald used to launder money. However, this was not Groenewald’s first run in with the law. Groenewald is a former police officer and was discharged because of his ties to a car smuggling ring allegedly outfitted by ZANU PF, the ruling party of Zimbabwe’s notorious Robert Mugabe. Groenewald was arrested in Alabama in April 2010 for importing an unlawfully hunted leopard trophy. He was banned from the U.S. and ordered to pay a $30,000 fine as well as a $7,500 fee to the buyer in Alabama.

There is some evidence that the Groenewald Gang is part of a bigger international syndicate of illegal wildlife trafficking headed by high-ranking officials in Zimbabwe.

Groenewald and his associates are out of business, but many more like them remain. Poaching is a big business, and like any illicit business only exists at the scale it does because of the global shadow financial system. Money that Valinor Trading CC conceals becomes an illicit financial flow, and eventually must be deposited in a financial institution somewhere. Authorities have frozen $6.8 million of Groenewald’s assets, but who knows how much more is hiding behind a shell company’s bank account in some far-off tax haven.

It makes no sense that while Western countries work to protect endangered and threatened species from people like Groenewald and his clients, they simultaneously undermine these same policy goals by allowing money to be easily concealed. Article by Regina Morales who is a Policy Intern at Global Financial Integrity.

Author and investigative journalist Julian Rademeyer has recently launched his book “Killing for Profit’ A terrifying true story of greed, corruption, depravity and ruthless criminal enterprise.

On the black markets of Southeast Asia, rhino horn is worth more than gold, cocaine and heroin. This is the story of a more than two-year-long investigation into a dangerous criminal underworld where merciless syndicates will stop at nothing to attain their prize. It is a tale of greed, folly and corruption, and of an increasingly desperate battle to save  rhinos – which have existed for more than 50 million years – from extinction.

Killing for Profit is a meticulous, devastating and revelatory account of one of the world’s most secretive trades. It exposes poachers, scoundrels, gangsters, conmen, mercenaries, killers, gun-runners,  diplomats, government officials and kingpins behind the slaughter. And it follows the bloody trail from the frontlines of the rhino wars in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique to the medicine markets of Vietnam and the lair of a wildlife-trafficking kingpin on the banks of the Mekong River in Laos …

For more information visit – http://killingforprofit.com/the-book/

To purchase the book online visit – Kalahari.com

A record number of African rhinos were illegally killed in South Africa this year, driven by the use of their horns in Chinese medicine and a spreading belief in Southeast Asia, unfounded in science, that they may cure cancer. The street value of rhinoceros horns has soared to about $65 000 a kilogramme, making it more expensive than gold.

South Africa, home to more than 20 000 rhinos, or about 90% of all the rhinos in Africa, lost 455 rhinos to poachers, as of Tuesday, to eclipse the 448 killed in all of 2011, the environment ministry said in a statement. Around 15 animals a year were lost a decade ago, showing the impact of rising demand from Asia.

The number of rhinoceroses dying unnatural deaths in South Africa, either through illegal poaching or legal hunts, has now reached a level likely to lead to population decline, according to a study by Richard Emslie, an expert in the field. Poaching increased dramatically from about 2007 as a growing affluent class in China, Vietnam and Thailand began spending more on rhino horn for traditional medicine, where it was once used for ailments such as devil possession.

About half of poaching takes place in Kruger National Park, the country’s flagship park covering an area about the size of Israel, where soldiers and surveillance aircraft have been deployed in recent months to slow the carnage. The park has been the focal point of an arms race as gangs of poachers sponsored by international crime syndicates have used high-powered weaponry, night vision goggles and helicopters to hunt the animals, investigators said. Source: Polity.org.za