Main Image Credit Maciej Tomczak / phototramp.com / Alamy Stock Photo
In 2017, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) became one of the largest ivory markets in Southeast Asia. Since then, the country has shown a growing willingness to incorporate financial intelligence into its investigations, taking several measures to improve its response to wildlife trafficking.
In November 2019, Lao PDR’s Department of Forestry Inspection invited the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), TRAFFIC and RUSI to pilot a new capacity-building exercise in the form of a multi-agency review of two recent wildlife trafficking investigations.
Funding for this research was provided by WWF International and TRAFFIC through the USAID funded Wildlife TRAPS Project. With thanks to the Government of Lao PDR for their cooperation.
Aims and objectives
The investigations selected for review were chosen based on the types of cases typically confronted by wildlife crime investigators in Lao PDR.
In particular, the exercise aimed to:
- Identify missed opportunities for financial action during the original investigations.
- Discuss the application of Lao PDR’s anti-money laundering and financial crime architecture to wildlife trafficking.
- Encourage further use of financial investigation by local agencies.
- Explore the role of domestic agencies in combatting wildlife trafficking as a financial crime.
- Establish first steps for triggering a financial investigation.
- Encourage inter-agency working across government.
- Demonstrate the effectiveness and impact of financial investigations to encourage and support further policy development.
By using familiar and real investigations in a closed-door setting, workshop participants were able to have candid discussions about where opportunities to collect financial evidence are commonly missed. Guided by RUSI, participants reflected on the value of developing financial intelligence to better understand criminal networks, even if these leads are not used in evidence.
The exercise generated heightened awareness of the need to add the Economic Police and the Anti-Money Laundering Intelligence Office to Lao PDR's Wildlife Enforcement Network.
Although it was not the purpose of the review, formal requests were made to the Central Public Prosecutor’s Office to reopen and allow financial investigations into both cases examined in November 2019.
In December 2019, the Director-General of the Department of Forestry Inspection established a dedicated team within the department to coordinate all financial crime investigations and prosecution relating to the environment.
Finally, RUSI’s methodology was included as an example of best practice and recommendation in the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) review of the illegal wildlife trade in 2020.