Task Force in Africa Swoops Down on Traffickers

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

Nairobi, KENYA, July 19 2018— A wildlife enforcement task force in Africa announced today that five men are incustody in Congo Brazzaville after being arrested for trafficking large consignments of protected wildlife species acrossinternational borders, while an investigation widens to other suspects. A Chinese national, together with three Nigeriansand one Congolese, appear to be part of a major criminal supply chain that has been smuggling multiple tons of elephanttusks and pangolin scales from Africa to Asia for several years. Officers from six African countries are now broadening the investigation to track down a fugitive broker, and to identify the financiers behind the shipments, which representhundreds of elephants and thousands of pangolins.

Zhang Ming Yang (Chinese national), Emmanuel Agbo (Nigerian), Aboubalar Nasiru (Nigerian), John Paul Obiakor(Nigerian), and Ted Allan Otta Obongui (Congolese) appeared in Court this week in Congo Brazzaville after four of themen were caught on June 21 with 1,798 kilograms of pangolin scales as they crossed a coastal border point fromDemocratic Republic of Congo into Congo Brazzaville.

Over the following week, the Lusaka Agreement Task Force (LATF) and the Republic of Congo quietly pursued leads andlocated and arrested the suspects’ Congolese accomplice on June28th. The five men were then held in police custody while prosecutors prepared their case and police hunted down additional suspects.

Investigators from LATF have revealed that the five men were planning to transport the contraband from Brazzaville byroad to the port city of Douala in neighboring Cameroon, and then onto Lagos, Nigeria. The suspects are linked to Kaba Mamadi, a major Guinean wildlife trafficking broker who is on the run after LATF previously linked him to multipleshipments of elephant tusks and pangolin scales seized in Southeast Asia. Mamadi had used this same channel to smuggle 2.1 tons of ivory that was seized in Thailand in 2015, and shipments of 3.3 tons and 3.8 tons of pangolin scales that wereseized in Vietnam during April and May of this year.

The latest prosecutions follow LATF’s arrests of eight other traffickers in Central Africa in April and May of this year,including three corrupt government officials. All of the thirteen arrested since April appear to be connected, using commonmodus operandi and shared channels to traffic tusks and scales from Africa to Asia.

The cross–border enforcement successes benefited from specialized training for African enforcement personnel, who wereconvened to share information and learn how to apply advanced analytics technology and methods to illuminate clues.Training was provided by Freeland and LATF, with financial support from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, and technological support from IBM. African countries are also benefiting from cooperation with Vietnam, thanks to support from USAID Wildlife Asia. Technical support was also provided byGrace Farms Foundation.

Countries that cooperated with LATF included: Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Congo Brazzaville,Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Vietnam.

“Our analytical skills and our networks are fast improving, allowing us to catch up with sophisticated cross bordertrafficking rings,” said Edward Phiri, Acting Director of LATF.

“Historically, wildlife traffickers have cooperated with one another better than law enforcers have,” said Freeland’s SeanO’Regan. “That equation is changing.”

“This latest success is profound in that it took months instead of years to achieve,” said Steve Galster, founder of Freeland.“Chalk that up to the right people working together, using the right technology. Resourced, this task force can accelerate and expand these investigations to net even bigger results.”

Freeland analysts believe this case bears the hallmarks of Chinese and Nigerian organized crime. One of the arrested islinked to a Chinese–owned, Lagos–based clearinghouse. Numerous seizures of wildlife en route to China via SoutheastAsia were exported from Nigeria. Freeland is also providing training and analytical support to authorities in SoutheastAsia, where they helped police identify Kingpin Boonchai Bach, who was arrested in January. Freeland contends thatBach is part of a Vietnamese organized crime ring that sources wildlife in Asia and Africa for Chinese buyers. Ongoingresearch points to several supply chains powered by Chinese, Vietnamese, and West Africa organized crime that arecompeting to buy up Africa’s and Asia’s dwindling supply of elephants, rhinos, big cats, pangolins, and prized flora.