Paid to look the other way

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - SHEREE BEGA

RHINO horns. Ivory tusks. Pan­golin scales. Drugs. Hu­man body parts.

The cus­toms of­fi­cial at the in­ter­na­tional air­port in Ma­puto in Mozam­bique was paid to turn a blind eye to the con­tain­ers filled with grue­some il­licit “prod­ucts”.

“This guy, if we took him out – and you can take that in any way you want – it would have much more of an im­pact in terms of the syn­di­cates’ abil­ity to move these prod­ucts,” said David Barske, head of re­search at the Fo­cus Africa Foun­da­tion, a non-profit in­tel­li­gence out­fit prob­ing rhino poach­ing in South Africa, show­ing an in­crim­i­nat­ing video of the cus­toms agent.

Barske and his col­league, Nigel Mor­gan, were speak­ing this week on the side­lines of the Con­ven­tion on In­ter­na­tional Trade in En­dan­gered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites) CoP17 sum­mit in Sand­ton, on the role of in­tel­li­gence in coun­ter­ing or­gan­ised gangs fu­elling poach­ing, smug­gling and the il­le­gal trad­ing of rhino horn and other wildlife in South Africa.

This week, the 183 sig­na­to­ries to Cites de­cided on the fu­ture of the world’s wildlife be­ing dec­i­mated by a $23 bil­lion (R318bn) transna­tional or­gan­ised crime in­dus­try.

But Mor­gan said in­tel­li­gence was the key to un­der­min­ing crim­i­nal net­works and or­gan­ised syn­di­cates at the heart of wildlife crime. “Or­gan­ised crime takes ad­van­tage of cor­rup­tion, all the way from the low­est level po­lice­man all the way up to high level politi­cians and diplo­mats.”

The foun­da­tion had con­ducted 18-month in­ves­ti­ga­tions “from the ground up”, said Barske, tack­ling the “mid­dle­men” in­volv­ing in rhino poach­ing.

“We did an 18-month in­ves­ti­ga­tion into quite high-level Chi­nese ex­porters of all sorts of wildlife prod­ucts, who used casi­nos to trans­fer wealth.

“These guys are not am­a­teurs.”

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