Operation PRAESIDIO boosts global efforts to combat the illegal wildlife trade

29 三月 2019

Illegal wildlife trade (IWT) remains one of the most pervasive crimes against both the environment and society, greatly harming our precious fauna and their ecosystems and depleting countries of critical resources.  Through its Environment Programme, the World Customs Organization (WCO) has been extensively involved in building Members’ capacity to combat IWT since 2011.

As part of the initiative to drive integrated border management forward and to ensure closer enforcement cooperation between Member administrations, the WCO INAMA Project has provided a sound basis for launching joint enforcement activities and initiatives to tackle IWT.

The Project has so far conducted several “train-the-trainer” and accreditation workshops, as well as regional workshops on intelligence and risk management, operations planning, and institutional and organizational frameworks on the enforcement of CITES related matters. Bringing together Members that have benefitted from these workshops to conduct a global joint Customs/Police operation was the next logical step in applying the acquired knowledge.

Under the auspices of the INAMA Project, sponsored by the US Department of State (INL), an enforcement operation code-named PRAESIDIO was launched to combat the smuggling of wildlife. The operation combined the efforts of Members from Francophone and Anglophone Africa and Southeast Asia. In addition, the Anti-Smuggling Bureau of China Customs as well as Hong Kong Customs, who are both non-beneficiaries under INAMA, joined the Operation and self-funded their activities.

The Operation was also supported by INTERPOL, as a member of the International Consortium on Combatting Wildlife Crime (ICCWC), as well as various national police services. In addition, the WCO/UNODC Container Control Programme (CCP) and the AIRCOP Project worked with Member administrations, rendering close operational support during Operation PRAESIDIO.

In preparation for the Operation, participating Members developed a Global IWT Risk Matrix, compiling risk indicators and highlighting commonalities, which guided Members’ operations. The Global IWT Risk Matrix is a “living document” that Members are required to maintain even after the Operation, updating it on a quarterly basis with the assistance of their respective Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs).

The Operation consisted of three phases. The pre-operational phase which included a preparatory meeting held in Brussels at the WCO Headquarters on 10 and 11 January 2019. The operational phase ran from 4 February to 3 March 2019.  And finally, the post-operational phase was synthesized in an operation close-out meeting held at the WCO Regional Training Centre in Melaka, Malaysia, on 21 and 22 March 2019, with the support of the Royal Malaysian Customs Department.

Operation PRAESIDIO’s activities impacted 41 countries across the globe, resulting in 267 seizures and 125 arrests. These figures are significant in terms of its overall impact as only 27 countries participated in the Operation, namely Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Lao (PDR), Madagascar, Malaysia, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, Togo, Uganda, Vietnam and Zambia, as well as China and Hong Kong, China.

“The WCO remains committed to the deployment of enforcement activities that aim to secure international supply chains and prevent illegal wildlife trade,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya. “Operation PRAESIDIO clearly demonstrated that fostering operational cooperation with our police counterparts yields results that go beyond the seizure of goods, leading up to important arrests and investigations which truly impact international organised crime,” he added.

The Operation netted impressive seizures; close to 4 tonnes of ivory and 783 pangolins were intercepted, with an added 866 kg of pangolin scales and parts.  A large amount of reptiles were also seized, including 4,819 turtles and tortoises, 1,521 rat snakes, 296 pythons, 91 cobras, and 64 chameleons. Ever “popular” commodities were also seized, including 43 kg of rhino horn, 145 kg of shark fins, and 113 live parrots. In addition, Members foiled attempts to smuggle a total of 29 tonnes of red sandalwood, and 5,318.4 cubic meters plus 311 logs of various timbers.

Although Operation PRAESIDIO has ended, Member administrations will continue to engage with their police colleagues, where appropriate, and ensure that the arrests and ongoing investigations are followed through with prosecutions. This will contribute towards one of the most critical objectives of the Operation, which is dismantling of the criminal networks operating behind this scourge.