Interpol thwarts wildlife trafficking ring; nabs environmental fugitives

Written by on December 24, 2014 in Critter Crimes - No comments

Interpol has dealt a series of blows to environmental criminals, poachers and those toiling in the illegal wildlife trade. This month alone, the international police agency has captured some of its most-wanted fugitives and disrupted a massive multinational trafficking ring trading in both live animals and wildlife parts.

Hundreds of animals and more than 160 arrests were made last week as part of  Operation PAWS (Protection of Asian Wildlife Species), which spanned 13 countries. Live tigers, leopards, bears, monkeys, red pandas, lions and crocodiles were recovered. So were turtles, tortoises and birds.

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The five-month-long investigation also intercepted 3,500 kilograms of elephant ivory, 280 kg of pangolin scales, tiger skins and rhino horns.

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Also this month, Interpol announced the arrest of a suspected illegal ivory trader in Zambia. Ben Simasiku, 32, was named as one of Interpol’s most wanted after his 2012 arrest in Botswana for being in possession of 17 cut pieces of elephant tusks weighing 115 kg.

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But the Zambian man fled the country. Recently, the Zambia Wildlife Authority received a tip about a man in possession of ivory jewellery. He is awaiting extradition.

Simasiku was among those identified in November in Interpol’s public plea for help with its Operation Infra Terra (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest.)

“Crimes that harm the environment are not always looked upon as ‘serious’ crimes, which is something Interpol hopes to change through actions such as Operation Infra Terra. This arrest demonstrates a change in attitude: that all fugitives will be sought to face justice, regardless of the crime they have committed,” Stefano Carvelli, Interpol’s fugitive investigative support unit, said in a statement. “This case also demonstrates how increasing public awareness of how people might encounter criminal activity in their daily lives is critical for police.”

And now, there is the arrest this week of Feisal Mohamed Ali, a Kenyan businessman accused of dealing in wildlife trophies. Interpol counted him as among its most wanted after he was “found in possession of 314 pieces of ivory weighing more than two tonnes.”

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Ali is the alleged leader of an ivory smuggling group and was captured in Tanzania, according to Standard Digital. Interpol in Nairobi told the news outlet on Tuesday that Ali is in custody after officers searched a house.

“The businessman is cooperating with the police to establish if he is involved in the alleged criminal activities,” Gustav Babile, head of Interpol in Tanzania, told Reuters.

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