Organized Crime Hit Hard By Joint WCO-INTERPOL Global Enforcement Operation Across 109 Countries Resulting In 1,828 Seizures

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Photo By WCO

A joint worldwide customs and police operation has resulted in the seizure of large quantities of protected flora and fauna across every continent.

Last month, the World Customs Organization (WCO) and INTERPOL coordinated Operation Thunderball, with police and customs administrations leading joint enforcement operations against wildlife crime across 109 countries. 

According to a statement, a team of customs and police officers together coordinated global enforcement activities from an Operations Coordination Center at INTERPOL’s Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore. 

Intelligence and risk indicators compiled prior to the Operation assisted Customs administrations to perform improved case selection, and guided frontline Customs and Police officers, as well as wildlife authorities, to target specific high-risk routings, conveyances and commodities, with a specific focus on unlawful activities with a transnational dimension.

Worldwide Environmental Impact

Initial results have led to the identification of almost 600 suspects, triggering arrests worldwide. Further arrests and prosecutions are foreseen as ongoing investigations progress.

1,828 seizures were made during the Operation, including:

  • 23 live primates

  • 30 big cats and large quantities of animal parts

  • 440 pieces of elephant tusks and an additional 545 Kg of ivory

  • Five rhino horns

  • More than 4,300 birds

  • Just under 1,500 reptiles and nearly 10,000 turtles and tortoises

  • Almost 7,700 wildlife parts from all species

  • 2,550 cubic metres of timber (equivalent to 74 truckloads)

  • More than 2,600 plants

  • Almost 10,000 marine wildlife items.

China Customs seized 1,280 kg of dried seahorse. Photo by WCO

The Operation saw seven packages of pangolin parts weighing 546 kg bound for Asia seized in Nigeria, and the arrests in Uruguay of three suspects smuggling more than 400 protected wildlife species.

The Operation highlighted the continuing trend in online trade, with 21 arrests in Spain and the seizure in Italy of 1,850 birds as a result of two online investigations.

“As clearly illustrated by the results of Operation Thunderball, close cooperation at international and national levels to combat wildlife crime must never be under-estimated,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya.

Thai Customs seized more than 4,500 turtles and 35 live fishes from a van. Photo by WCO

The WCO and INTERPOL have a long history of cooperation, regularly supporting each other’s operations in the field. Operation Thunderball marks a new direction in their partnership, bringing them together as joint operational partners on the frontline to ensure wildlife crime trafficking is addressed comprehensively from detection to arrest, investigation and prosecution.

“Such initiatives will be replicated to raise awareness within the global law enforcement community on the gravity of global wildlife crime and to better coordinate cross-agency efforts, including the engagement of civil society groups to detect and deter wildlife criminal networks,” added Dr. Mikuriya.

“This massive disruption of criminal networks is key to saving endangered wildlife across the globe. But seizures and arrests are only the first step, governments must now follow up with strong, meaningful prosecutions. In particular, the criminals running these networks must feel the full weight of the law, including deterrent penalties and jail sentences,” said Susan Lieberman, Wildlife Conservation Society VP of International Policy.

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