NAIROBI AND BANGKOK, June 9, 2017 – In a landmark operation, a cross-border African task force has arrested 7 key players that smuggled 1 ton of elephant tusks from Uganda to Singapore via Kenya in one instance alone, and who are part of a syndicate responsible for the ongoing decimation of Africa’s elephants for the ivory trade, as well as other endangered species whose body parts are still being smuggled in large quantities to Asia’s black markets.
The Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) announced today that they have just concluded coordinating an intensive six-week operation resulting in multiple arrests, including a senior Kenyan Customs official, several shipping agents, and high-level traffickers for their role in smuggling the illegal consignment to Singapore in March 2014. The accused are also under investigation for other wildlife crimes.
The operation revealed evidence that link to other parts of Africa and Asia.
Investigators believe the covert pipeline used in the March 2014 case, and the people running it, have remained in operation until now, as thousands of tusks and other wildlife parts, have been smuggled through identical routes and mechanisms. During the operation, which focused on ivory trafficking, another wildlife trafficking kingpin who is on the Interpol wanted “Red Notice” list was discovered in the mix and turned in for prosecution in Tanzania for his role in trafficking the remains of thousands of endangered animals to Southeast Asia. The accused, Gakou Fodie, was successfully extradited from the Uganda/Kenya border to Tanzania earlier this week for prosecution in his role in the illegal export of 6 tons of pangolin scales to Asia. Fodie has also been linked to other East and West African wildlife exports to Asia.
Coordinated by LATF, the recent operation is the result of 18 months of investigation in 8 countries by numerous agencies. In December 2015, LATF traveled to Bangkok and exchanged information with the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN) and its member agencies about multiple ivory seizures in Southeast Asia. That exchange was first put to use in an initial LATF-coordinated operation in West Africa in late 2016 that resulted in 8 arrests of Customs and shipping officials.
LATF then analyzed data from both the 2016 West African-focused operation and the March 2014 seizure in Singapore. Using a digital forensics unit called Cellebrite and a computer analysis program called i-2, investigators were able to connect the dots between the seizures and the suppliers. Acting on this analysis, LATF led a team of Kenyan Police, Wildlife, Ports Authority and Customs officers to uncover a wildlife trafficking pipeline operating out of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. The team discovered and arrested a Kenya Revenue Authority officer, James Njagi who worked at the port of Mombasa, as well as James Oliech and Silas Ndolo Kimeu, both clearing agents in Mombasa. These men collaborated with a Kenyan national, Justus Wesonga, who coordinated and oversaw the illegal shipment of tusks from Uganda across the Malaba border post into Kenya. Fifteen crates of elephant tusks marked as coffee berries had been transported by road on a truck to Mombasa port where they were loaded onto a vessel bound for Singapore after clearance by the port and Customs officials. As LATF’s manhunt continued, Justus Wesonga and Jumba Gaylord were also rounded up. Gaylord appears to have played a major role in arranging the ivory to pass through Customs and port control checks.
In 2015 alone, 32 tons of ivory were seized in Southeast Asia coming from East and West African ports. “These arrests reveal how the smuggling has been orchestrated,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, Chairman of Freeland, the counter-trafficking organization that provided training for the LATF-coordinated operations. “We hope the investigation will now continue in Asia to find the big buyers who are sponsoring the killing of elephants. Africa is now ahead of Asia in going beyond seizures and making meaningful arrests of wildlife criminals,” he added. “But it is heartening that African law enforcement benefited greatly from Southeast Asian law enforcement cooperation in this big case.”
Sean O’Regan, Freeland’s Law Enforcement Manager for Africa, said. “The discovery of this underground pipeline that has been used to move significant volumes of tusks out of Africa to Asian black markets shows there is still hope for the very endangered elephant.”
Ebayi Bonaventure, Director of the LATF, vowed to continue the investigation. “We will carry on and find everyone involved in this criminal supply chain, from the poaching fields to the buyers. We will not stop until the killing and trafficking stops,” he said.
LATF coordinated the multi-agency African investigation team to travel to Southeast Asia twice in the past 18 months to meet Asian law enforcement officers and gather evidence to support the ivory trafficking cases. Members of the multi-agency investigation team have been undergoing specialized investigation training by Freeland. Freeland, in association with the LATF, Interpol, and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, have been bringing African and Asian law enforcers together to exchange information on wildlife trafficking cases like this one.