African Task Force Shakes Up Wildlife Trafficking Syndicates

Enforcement Drive Snares 11 Major Criminals including Corrupt Officials and Business Executives

Suspected kingpins behind massive seizures of elephant ivory in Vietnam (left) and pangolin scales have been arrested in Africa. Photos: Freeland.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO (DRC), February 8, 2017  – Long on corruption and short on arrests and convictions of kingpins, the fight against wildlife poaching was boosted by a recent series of groundbreaking arrests in Central Africa, including 11 government officials and shipping company executives over the past five months. African officials confirmed today that those arrested were behind massive shipments of endangered species worth millions of dollars, including 2.1 tons ivory of shipped from DRC via Malaysia and seized in Thailand during April 2015 and 1.5 tons of ivory originating in the Republic of Congo and seized in Vietnam during December 2014. The African task force behind the arrests is now set to expand their investigations together with their Asian counterparts.

The latest round of arrests by the cross-border “Lusaka Agreement Task Force” (LATF) included another government official and shipping company executive. Kambala Mukenge, Document and Records Senior Manager at OCC (Office of Customs Control Exports) DRC, and Laurent Emery Kabugah, a Manager of ACREP Shipping Company Manager DRC, appeared in court on February 3, 2017 on charges of conspiracy to traffic 1.5 metric tons of elephant tusks. The judge turned down their requests for bail. They will remain in jail until their next hearing in March.  

Both are suspected of colluding with Chinese and African nationals believed to be the masterminds of this ivory trafficking syndicate. An international arrest warrant has been issued for Louis Yong Toon and Kaba Mamadi, who are both on the run.

The latest arrests are part of an ongoing investigation that saw two DRC government officials and two shipping company managers arrested in September 2016. All the accused have been denied bail and are awaiting trial for charges on conspiracy to traffic ivory. If convicted, they face sentences of two to five years in jail and/or fines of US$200 to 10,000 dollars.  

LATF has been following the case since late 2015 when Thai authorities announced the country’s largest ever seizure of elephant tusks. Labeled as ‘beans’, the 2.1-ton shipment of 739 tusks originated in the DRC and was bound for Laos via Congo, Brazzaville and Thailand.

With support from Bangkok-based counter-trafficking organization Freeland, LATF and the Association of South East Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) came together to share information on this and similar seizures of ivory. Through additional support from the US Government and the conservation group, Save the Elephants, Freeland’s special investigations team trained the African officers on how to follow the trail of documents and money to identify who packed and paid for the cargo of contraband.

“Too often wildlife enforcement agencies have only been seizing the smuggled remains of endangered species and not finding and arresting the traffickers behind the crime,” said Steven Galster, Director of Freeland. “LATF’s recent enforcement drive is changing the game, shaking up the syndicates by going after, arresting, and prosecuting their key members. This intelligent and bold approach spells hope for elephants and other species. Now we need to see cooperation with Asia stepped up, giving time for demand reduction efforts in consumer countries to take root.”

Bonaventure Ebayi, the Director of LATF, said: “LATF, together with its key enforcement partners such as Interpol and supporting NGOs like Freeland will continue to ensure wildlife criminals are tracked and arrested to meet the full force of the law wherever they may be. We wish to call upon the international community and affected countries in Asia such as Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia to support the ongoing efforts in Africa to reverse the growing trends of elephant poaching and ivory trafficking.”

On January 10, Gakou Fodie, the suspected ringleader of a crime syndicate accused of trafficking massive amounts of pangolin scales from East Africa bound for Asia has been arrested in Uganda, after nine other suspects were arrested in Tanzania with six tons of pangolin scales on October 28, 2016.

All 10 suspects will face trial in Tanzania. Authorities suspect that they are part of a bigger operation trafficking in other endangered species too.  

Spearheaded by the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF), with support from Interpol and Freeland, the authorities who seized the shipment uncovered a trafficking route that began in Uganda, where small quantities were smuggled by bus to Tanzania, which were then sent on to Asia.  

In breaking up the ivory trafficking syndicate, a diverse alliance made up of programs like Africa’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST), government agencies such as Interpol’s NCB, and Save the Elephants, played vital parts in supplying the training and intelligence that helped lead to these arrests.

“INTERPOL Brazzaville is fully committed to eradicating elephant poaching and ivory trafficking in Africa and Congo in particular,” said Emmanuel Missaliki, Officer NCB INTERPOL Brazzaville. “This is why we will continue teaming up with governments and key enforcement partners in carrying out crucial investigations into wildlife crime across Africa.”

Up to 30,000 elephants are poached for their tusks in Africa every year to feed the commercial trade in ivory. The poachers are sponsored by organized crime syndicates based in Africa and Asia. The main consumer country, China, has recently agreed to ban all trade in elephant ivory by the end of 2017.

As Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Founder of Save the Elephants, said, "Criminal networks must reject ivory as being more trouble than it's worth if we're to end the crisis for elephants. That means high level ivory traffickers must be found, arrested and successfully prosecuted. These latest arrests are a shining example of how collaborative action can make this happen."                                                                          ##### The 11 Major Arrests by LATF and its members since September 2016 include: - Kapayi Kikumbi Jean - Agriculture Engineering and Product Analysis Expert from Ministry of Agriculture, DRC. - Onakoy Oleko - Senior Inspector at the DRC Bureau of Standards and Certifications from Ministry of Trade and Industrialization. - Tekatala Bazingu - Deputy General Manager ACREP TRANSIT, DRC - Kalembu Kamwita Emergy Patrice - General Manager ACREP Transit Shipping Company DRC - Kambala Mukenge - Document and Records Senior Manager at OCC (Office of Customs Control Exports) DRC - Laurent Emery Kabugah – ACREP Shipping Company Manager DRC - Dit Seidou – Owner of BONCOINDU MARCHE transport company RoC - Seraphan Samron – Director of SAM Transit Company RoC - Tchikaya Roland - Director of Administration, Finance and Human Resource/Acting Managing Director, NILE DUTCH Shipping Company RoC - Ngoula Gildas - Documentation Manager, NILE DUTCH Shipping Company RoC - Gakou Fodie, suspected ringleader of a wildlife trafficking syndicate, Uganda

Note to editors:

Lusaka Agreement Task Force is an African inter-governmental organization that facilitates cooperative activities in/among the Party states to the Lusaka Agreement, in carrying out investigations on violations of national laws pertaining to the illegal trade in wild fauna and flora.

“ARREST” stands for Africa’s Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking. It is sponsored by the US Department of State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) and run in partnership with African Wildlife Foundation and IFAW. ARREST training is provided by Freeland.

Freeland is a frontline counter-trafficking organization working for a world that is free of wildlife trafficking and human slavery. Its team of law enforcement, development and communications specialists work alongside partners in Asia, Africa and the Americas to protect the environment and vulnerable people from organized crime and corruption. For more info or high-res pics contact Communications Director Josie Raine at

Conservation organizations and communities, scientists and governments, are uniting behind a common strategy to stop the killing, the trafficking, and the demand for ivory. The Elephant Crisis Fund—a joint initiative of Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network—exists to fuel this coalition, encourage collaboration, and deliver rapid impacts on the ground.