Anti-money laundering task force contributing to local, international arrests for poaching


Schalk Burger, Engineering News

Date Published

Public-private partnership the South African Anti-Money Laundering Integrated Task Force’s (Samlit’s) platform has facilitated information sharing that led to the arrest of 12 people and the seizure of 78 rhino horns, ivory and other wildlife products. 

This follows increased collaboration between the private and public sectors and cooperation with international agencies.

The collaborative partnership between the South African chapter of UK conservation organisation United for Wildlife (UfW), Samlit members and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) was tested when, at the end of 2021, 24 rhinos were killed in less than 48 hours. 

In response, Samlit, the FIC and UfW were able to support activities by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), which included increased scrutiny at airports and marine ports. This led to the seizure of the horns before they left the country, and multiple arrests since the incident, Samlit says.

“It takes a network to catch a network, and we have learned that, by joining forces and communicating through legal frameworks, we can be much more effective than by operating in silos,” says Samlit illegal wildlife trade (IWT) expert working group head and investment management company Investec Financial Crimes Compliance head Gerald Byleveld. 

“Thanks to the backing of the private sector, we have seen how, by adding financial crimes to wildlife charges, criminals can be more effectively prosecuted and get longer sentences,” adds Hawks National Section Commander of Wildlife Trafficking Colonel Johan Jooste.

The recent sentencing of Ping Wu by the Thembisa Regional Court to five years imprisonment for money laundering linked to illegal rhino horn trafficking is a significant example of the success of this approach, he says. 

“Samlit aims to combat illegal wildlife trade by focusing on the financial flows that prop it up. Working in a multidisciplinary law enforcement task team including the FIC, law enforcement agencies were able to respond quickly to the situation in December, sharing comprehensive financial information on the arrested parties and suspects related to the investigations.” 

Since the arrests, the Samlit multi-disciplinary law enforcement task team has taken up four separate related financial investigations with the relevant banks and the Hawks and it is intended that, by the time the cases get to court, a number of financial crimes charges will have been added to the IWT cases, notes Jooste. 

“Samlit and the Southern African chapter of UfW are setting a brilliant example for other countries and regions of how collaboration, focus and commitment can make a positive difference for our communities and our planet,” says UfW Financial Taskforce chairperson David Fein. 

“Two years of hard work have led to tangible results, and none too soon, as South Africa experienced a spike in rhino poaching late last year. The members of Samlit and the Southern Africa chapter of UfW responded with urgency, leading to seizures and arrests, and putting the traffickers of endangered species on notice. We were pleased to return to Southern Africa recently and to share the experience of South Africa with other countries in the region,” he adds.

Further, UfW recently co-hosted a conference about combating IWT in Southern Africa with the British High Commission in Botswana, which drew representatives from Angola, Botswana, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa with the aim to expand the Southern African Regional Chapter. 

This chapter will work to enhance communications between South Africa and its neighbouring countries, to improve the effectiveness of investigations across borders. It will continue to work with UfW’s international financial and transport taskforces to share information and resources, strengthen existing partnerships and better respond to support local priorities. 

The regional chapters will then form a collaborative network across the globe, from the Middle East to the Americas, highlights Fein.