Environment criminals build $10bn empire on ivory, timber and skins

Environmental Investigation Agency names men it suspects of involvement in illegal operations

Criminal syndicates are earning more than $10bn a year from a booming environmental crime business in rainforest logging, the trade in endangered animal skins and ivory and smuggling canisters of banned gas refrigerants, it is claimed today.

Environmental crime is a growing source of income for international gangs attracted by profit margins of up to 700% on illegal items such as tiger skins, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency. Yet the problem is being largely ignored by national and international crime fighting agencies, it says.

The UK-based charity has named several men it suspects of involvement in multimillion-dollar operations that have resulted in extensive environmental destruction, but who have not been successfully prosecuted. They include an Indian, Sansar Chand, who, according to an interrogation report from the Indian Central Bureau of Investigations, has sold more than 12,000 animal skins to Nepal-based traders. The report says his haul included 400 tigers and 2,000 leopards, worth up to $10m on the open market in China, where EIA investigators found similar skins openly, but illegally, on sale. Since June 2005 Chand has been in Tis Hazari jail in Delhi.

Abdul Rasyid, an Indonesian businessman, has denied illegal logging of hardwoods such as ramin and balau in the protected Tanjung Puting national park. He was named by the Indonesian government in a list of individuals suspected of involvement in the trade. The country's forestry ministry alleged that he organised the trade in illegal timber, in an operation which the EIA said was overseen from Hong Kong and involved middlemen in Singapore. The case against him has since been dropped for lack of evidence.

According to a signed confession obtained by the Zambia Wildlife Authority, Benson Nkunika admits poaching 38 elephants for their ivory using a range of guns including an AK-47 on the orders of an area warden in South Luangwa, the country's most famous national park.

The EIA believes a network of environmental crime rings is thriving in the developing world, even in the ivory trade, which has been the subject of an international ban since 1989. "It is clear the ivory trade is growing among organised criminals because of the increasing numbers of large seizures we are seeing," said Mary Rice, director of the EIA. "That is reflected in the trade in wild cat skins and illegal logging. Seizures in the 1990s were typically of far smaller volumes."

In a report published today which includes the findings of several investigations, the EIA concludes: "Environmental crime generates tens of billions of dollars in profits for criminal enterprises every year, and it is growing. In part this is due to the proliferation of international and regional environmental agreements, leading to more controls on a range of commodities. It is also due to mutations in the operations of criminal syndicates which have been diversifying their operations into new areas like counterfeiting and environmental crime."

The latest trend is the illegal trade in hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), gas compounds used in refrigeration and aerosols which are known to contribute to global warming. Julian Newman, an EIA investigator, said US authorities had intercepted the first attempts to smuggle HCFCs, which were intended to replace chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) but are now being phased out in the US.


Robert Booth

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Huge chimpanzee population thriving in remote Congo forest

Scientists believe the group is one of the last chimp 'mega-cultures', sharing a unique set of customs and behaviour

Damian Carrington

07, Feb, 2014 @11:53 AM

Article image
Earth has lost half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, says WWF
Species across land, rivers and seas decimated as humans kill for food in unsustainable numbers and destroy habitats

Damian Carrington

30, Sep, 2014 @4:53 PM

Article image
More than 90% of lemurs face extinction, IUCN warns
Updated 'red list' describes the primates as one of the most threatened groups of animals on Earth

Jessica Aldred

11, Jun, 2014 @11:01 PM

Article image
Sun bear sanctuary to save 'forgotten species'

South-east Asia's endangered bears losing habitat to palm oil plantations as poachers target them for their bile and meat

Ami Sedghi

06, Jan, 2014 @1:35 PM

Article image
People and animals at immediate risk from wildlife crime, Cites chief warns

Head of Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species Wildlife says clampdown must mirror war on drugs

Damian Carrington

01, Mar, 2013 @5:29 PM

Article image
Interpol demands crackdown on 'serious and organised' eco crime

Ivory poaching and illegal logging requires needs tougher enforcement and intelligence input, says Interpol director

Stanley Johnson, in Lyon

29, Mar, 2012 @3:04 PM

Article image
Attacks on the last elephants and rhinos threaten entire ecosystems
George Monbiot: Megafauna like elephants and rhinos are ecological engineers, creating conditions that hundreds of other species have evolved to exploit. Losing their last remaining populations will radically alter life on Earth

George Monbiot

22, May, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
UN biodiversity report highlights failure to meet conservation targets
Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 paints a damning picture of governments’ efforts to meet a set of targets agreed in 2010

Adam Vaughan

06, Oct, 2014 @3:15 AM

Article image
Global biodiversity targets won't be met by 2020, scientists say
World leaders failing in their pledge to stop wildlife decline, save habitats and create marine reserves

Adam Vaughan

03, Oct, 2014 @11:19 AM

Article image
The ivory trade isn’t just a disaster for elephants. It threatens our future too | Ian Redmond
Elephants prop up the forest and savannah ecosystems we need to store carbon. To stabilise the climate, we must stop their slaughter by ivory poachers

Ian Redmond

12, Aug, 2016 @9:00 AM