Nine institutions and individuals from across Asia have been recognized by the United Nations, USAID, Interpol, and the Freeland Foundation for outstanding work in preventing trans-boundary environmental crime in an annual award ceremony in Bangkok.
Wildlife trafficking was in the spotlight as winners from China, India, the Republic of Korea, , Malaysia, Nepal, Thailand and Viet Nam accepted awards for disrupting international criminal networks that have laid waste to wildlife across multiple continents.
Environmental crimes, which include illegal trade in wildlife, illicit trade in forests and forestry products, illegal dumping of waste including chemicals, smuggling of ozone depleting substances and illegal mining, comes at a hefty cost – estimated at up to $258 billion per year. It is now the fourth largest illegal crime after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking.
“Humanity is the guardian of the natural world, and these winners are at the tip of the spear. Without their commitment to justice, our environmental laws and safeguards are a paper tiger. And though their work may often go unrecognized, it is their qualities of courage, dedication and integrity we need to see more of to preserve our planet.” said Dechen Tsering, UN Environment Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
This year’s award winners are:
Le Thi Hang, Judge at Khanh Hoa People’s Court, Nha Trang, Viet Nam
Hang is a judge who showed exceptional determination to bring justice to one of the most serious wildlife crime cases Viet Nam has seen. The case began in 2014 when more than 7,000 Dead Sea turtles were discovered, fully or partially tax idermized, stacked from floor to ceiling at several warehouses near Nha Trang city. Most of them were critically endangered hawksbill turtles, and it was the largest-ever seizure of sea turtles in Viet Nam. Hang accepted the case when no other judges in Nha Trang city would.
Pillar 4 Central Investigation Bureau, Nepal Police
Despite being a small team with limited resources, Pillar 4 of Nepal Police’s Central Investigation Bureau was able to dismantle an international criminal network smuggling wildlife species, including black chimpanzees and exotic birds from as far away as Nigeria. By investigating the first ever case in the country registered as “organized crime” related to the illegal wildlife trade, they apprehended nine members of an international network, which included government officials from their own country. Corruption has been highlighted as one of the biggest challenges in combating illegal wildlife trade and Pillar 4 has shown dedication and a high level of integrity in bringing down wildlife criminals regardless of position.
Special Commendation: Wichien Chinnawong, Thungyai Naresuan Wildlife Sanctuary Chief, Thailand
In February 2018, a small team of rangers led by Chinnawong encountered a group of hunters camping in a famous wildlife sanctuary and eating highly endangered animals. When it became clear that one of the members of the group was a renowned, wealthy and influential businessman in Thailand, the team of rangers did not show any sign of intimidation and instead carried out their duties as enforcers of the law. Chinnawong apprehended all suspect poachers and pressed charges against them, including a charge for attempted bribery. While the trial will determine the exact responsibilities of the alleged poachers, the determination and the integrity of Chinnawong and his team remain undisputable facts.
(The case face by Chinnawong is not related to transboundary environmental crime, but in light of his outstanding accomplishments, the selection panel has bestowed a special commendation award.)
Thailand Team, composed of the Thai Customs, the Royal Thai Police, and the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation
In May 2018 the Samut Prakan Court in Thailand sentenced a notorious wildlife trafficker to 2.5 years in jail. The individual was believed to head a large criminal network responsible for the trafficking of ivory and rhino horns from Africa to Asia. This conviction was the result of a complex investigation that saw a strong collaboration among different authorities in Thailand. The profiling of a foreign smuggler, the arrest of a corrupt official operating within the airport, a domestic controlled delivery to identify the broker, and the use of digital forensic software to trace the head of the ring were just some of the advanced techniques utilized in this case. The conviction of Mr. Boonchai Bach was particularly successful because it hit the very top of an international criminal syndicate.
Wang Wei, Director of Investigation II of Anti-Smuggling Bureau of General Administration of China Customs
Wei played an instrumental role in China’s National Sword enforcement campaign in the Anti-Smuggling Bureau of General Administration of China Customs to implement China’s new waste import controls. The National Sword policy has changed the landscape of waste trade in Asia and is now being replicated in other countries.
Team of the Investigation and Suppression Division III of the Royal Thai Customs, under the Director Decha Wichaidit
The Thai Customs team adopted innovative risk profiling techniques to identify wildlife smugglers travelling to Thailand and Southeast Asia. Through the development of an advanced risk management system, Thai Customs has been able to detect wildlife smuggling patterns for passengers travelling from Africa to Southeast Asia. Their generosity in sharing tactical intelligence with Customs Authorities from neighboring countries resulted in the confiscation of rhino horns and the arrest of couriers in Singapore and – for the first time ever – in Lao PDR in September and October 2017. One of their profiling successes at a Bangkok airport in late 2017 triggered the operation that led to the arrest of a wildlife trafficking kingpin.
International Investigation Division, Korea Customs Service
Korea Customs designed a special enforcement strategy to fight illegal cross-border environmental crimes and established the environment enforcement team exclusively designated to tackle various types of cross-border environmental crimes such as illegal trade in controlled substances and protected wildlife species. They are also applauded for their collaboration efforts with other countries.
Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India
The Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) has adopted innovative enforcement techniques that have dramatically increased enforcement of transboundary environmental crimes in India. Notably, it has developed an online Wildlife Crime Database Management System to retrieve real-time data to help analyze trends and devise effective measures to prevent and detect wildlife crime across India. In order to involve the public in the fight against wildlife crime, WCCB has also developed a scheme to enroll willing persons as WCCB Volunteers.
Joil bin Bombon, former Dept. of Wildlife and National Parks Peninsular Malaysia and R.S. Sharath, former Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, India
After attending a regional meeting in Bangkok in 2016, Joil bin Bombon and R.S. Sharath began an intense exchange of information on cases of mutual interest. This cooperation intensified over time until turning into coordinated surveillance efforts and joint law enforcement cooperation. The close cooperation between Joil and Sharath – and all other officers working with them – resulted in the arrest of four major turtle traffickers in 2017 and 2018 and an unprecedented disruption of the illegal trade in turtles between India and Malaysia. Their efforts led also to the arrest of 35 people involved in the illegal trade, including public officials.