Canada’s Financial Intelligence Agency is stepping up the fight against the illicit wildlife trade by targeting criminals who make big profits from global racketeering.
The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Center of Canada, known as Fintrac, encourages banks and other businesses to be on the lookout for telltale signs that business transactions may involve the illegal trafficking of animals and plants exotic.
Fintrac has released a new operational alert aimed at gathering useful intelligence to combat a major international crime that generates approximately $20 billion in annual revenue.
The alert says Canadian bears are poached for their bile, claws and paws, which fetch large sums in the traditional medicine market at home and abroad.
Fintrac warns that other wild animals in Canada are hunted for their fur and sold around the world as trophies or other decorative items.
Species at risk of being targeted include cougars, geese, lynx, moose, crabs, eels, lobsters, narwhals, turtles and wolves.
There is a demand in Canada for wildlife and animal parts from overseas, such as reptiles, rhino horns, shark fins, endangered birds and orchids.
Fintrac tries to detect cash linked to money laundering by combing through a constant stream of data from banks, insurance companies, stockbrokers, money services businesses, real estate brokers, casinos and others.
Fintrac then discloses information to police and security partners for use in their investigations.
Operational Alert was developed in support of Project Anton, an international partnership designed to raise awareness of the threat and target illegal products. It is named in honor of Anton Mzimba, former head of security at the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve in South Africa, who was murdered last year.
The project is led by Scotiabank and supported by the Royal Foundation’s United for Wildlife Network, Fintrac, the South African Integrated Anti-Money Laundering Task Force, Western Union and several other government, law enforcement and non-government organisations. .
The goal is to work together on an issue that is truly international in scope, said Stuart Davis, executive vice president of Scotiabank. “We believe that by focusing on this we can really make an impact and a difference.”
A Fintrac review of approximately 200 suspicious transaction reports related to the illegal wildlife trade between 2011 and 2022 found that the majority involved the suspected illicit importation of flora and fauna into Canada, particularly from China and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Reports also indicated possible wildlife shipments from Canada to countries including the United States and China, according to the agency.
The illegal importation of exotic wildlife often begins with a Canadian trader ordering wildlife through a coordinator located, for example, in Australia, Asia or Africa, the alert says.
“The Coordinator manages all aspects of an illegal trade operation necessary to source wildlife for the Canadian trader, including engaging poachers, ranchers, traders, mules and smugglers located in their country.”
The wildlife is transported to a courier who is paid to transport the animals to the Canadian trader, Fintrac says.
“Transportation can be indirect, through the Postal Service or transport companies often financed with cash, or directly by couriers who hide wild animals in their luggage or on their person when traveling in Canada.
The Canadian trader could then advertise the sale of the trafficked animals on a website or via social media.
To date, investigations and prosecutions have often been directed “against the little guys”, such as poachers, and not those who make millions from the illegal wildlife trade, said Xolisile Khanyile, director of the Financial Intelligence Center of South Africa.
Tracking big players through financial transactions can help disrupt organized crime, she said. “If you only hit the bottom guys, the pivots will keep replacing them.”
Those involved in the illegal export of wild animals from Canada received funding from individuals or organizations involved with animals, such as pet stores and zoos, often located in the United States or overseas, the report says. Fintrac alert.
Remittance information for these funds sometimes referred to species or animal parts of concern.
Suspicious transactions included overspending in postal services, shipping entities and animal logistics services, as well as purchases of cages and freight equipment.
Fintrac warns that the movement of animal parts increases the risk of disease transmission and may be a pathway for future pandemics.
The illegal wildlife trade is also a growing threat to the global environment and biodiversity, jeopardizing endangered species and threatening fragile habitats, communities and livelihoods, according to the agency.
While an initial goal is to disrupt the organized criminals behind the trade, a long-term barometer of the project’s success will be to ensure that our grandchildren’s grandchildren can still enjoy rhinos and other species. exploited, said Barry MacKillop, deputy director of intelligence at Fintrac. .
“So I think there are two sides to this success that I’m looking for, a much longer term one that will outlive me.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on January 31, 2023.