Paid to look the other way
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.”