Customs effectively prevented transnational wildlife crime

VCN- Rhino horns disguised in plaster are transported by aircraft, ivory and pangolin scales hidden in asphalt are two of the many sophisticated tactics of cross-border wildlife traders in an attempt to overcome authorities, but were promptly detected and seized by Customs.
tin nhap 20191113163902 Seizing more than 8 tonnes of pangolin scales in Hai Phong
tin nhap 20191113163902 The view on handling acts of smuggling and illegal transport of wildlife is not consistent
tin nhap 20191113163902 Seized 20 kg of wildlife from Laos to Vietnam
tin nhap 20191113163902
The seizure of more than nine tons of ivory was carried out by Da Nang Customs Department and functional forces in March 2019. Photo: Quang Son (Da Nang Customs Department).

Largest cases

"The largest seizure of ivory" and "the largest seizure of pangolin scales" are phrases recently used by the press and media when referring to the illegal trade and transportation of wildlife detected by Customs forces.

Notably, on March 25, 2019, the Anti-Smuggling Investigation Department seizedmore than eight tons of pangolin scales in bags of seed at Hai Phong port. Then, on March 26, Da Nang Customs Department coordinated with functional forces to seizemore than nine tons of ivory shipped from Africa to Tien Sa port (Da Nang).

Talking to Customs News, Dr. Dang Tat The, Head of the Department of Molecular Studies and Conservation Genetics (Institute of Ecology and Biological Resources, Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology) – a leading expert in the field of wildlife – said that Vietnam has never recorded any seizure of ivory weighing more than nine tons as in the case of Da Nang and the seizureof more than eight tons of pangolin scales at Hai Phong port.

"Around the world, there has not been any record of any ivory seizure with such material evidence," Dang Tat The added.

According to Dr. Dang Tat The, currently all kinds of ivory and pangolin scales are prohibited from trading in accordance with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Facing complicated movements of transnational wildlife crimes, the Ministry of Finance and the General Department of Customs have implemented synchronously and drastically many measures such as: cooperation and exchange of information, knowledge and experience to control and prevent illegal exploitation, trade and transportation of wild species in the border areas.

Focusing on developing a focal point to coordinate in key areas and regularly exchange information on crimes with neighboring countries in order to facilitate verification information and investigation. Paying attention to training and improving customs control operations; training patrol and control teams to become elite and modern forces; conduct annual training on wild plants and animals for law enforcement agencies (species identification, CITES application, smuggling trends and practices, newly promulgated relevant laws). Establishing effective interdisciplinary coordination mechanisms, including the role of international organizations and social organizations.

Therefore, not only the two largest cases mentioned above, according to the General Department of Customs, since the beginning of 2019, the Customs sector has dealt with28 cases and prosecuted four cases relating to wild animals and plants.A number of other cases are still under investigation.

Other major cases include: on January 25, Hai Phong Customs Department seized more than two tons of smuggled ivory and pangolin scales (including about 500 kg of ivory); on April 17, Hai Phong Customs Department seized nearly 7.5 tons of ivory and pangolin scales hidden in asphalt, including nearly 3.5 tons of ivory. On July 25, at the warehouse of Noi Bai Cargo Service Joint Stock Company (NCTS), the Customs Control Team (Hanoi Customs Department) coordinated with the Customs Department of Noi Bai International Airport and the functional force to seize 125.15kg of rhino horn.

tin nhap 20191113163902
More than eight tons of pangolin scales were seized in Hai Phong. Photo: T. Binh.

Actively participate in the global network

Currently, with high determination along with the careful attention and guidance of leaders at all levels, the Customs control force has handledmany big cases,raising its reputation in the country as well as the international community.

In particular, Vietnam Customs has been actively involved in wildlife trade campaigns and projects.

For example, Project Savannah – a joint initiative between Vietnam and South Korea Customs agencies to fight illegal transport of wild species on the list of CITES. The Vietnam - China - Hong Kong (China) Action Plan is being developed in the fight against smuggling and illegal transportation of wild animals and plants across borders.

In 2019, Vietnam Customs is the national focal point participating in the Praesidio Campaign on the illegal transport of wild animals and plants across the border bythe World Customs Organization. This is also the campaign that set the path for Operation Thunderball taking place in June 2019 with the participation of about 100 countries.

Vietnam Customs regularly has annual meetings, domestic and international delegations of countries in the route of the illegal trade and transportation of wild animals around the world such as Nigeria and the United Kingdom. Vietnam Customs has also developed and successfully issued a manual to identify pangolin species and identify products from wildlife that are commonly traded in Vietnam to equip local Customs units to quickly and accurately identify material evidence.

Many challenges

Despite successively handlingmany cases, however, the fight against smuggling and illegal transportation of wild animals and plants still faces many difficulties and challenges.

That is, the tricks to smuggle and illegally transport wildlife are increasingly sophisticated through changing businesses to import, frequently change places of gathering, and operate irregularly and not permanently.

Inspection is costly, sometimes difficult because in some cases, the material evidence is small and not enough to make a specimen.

In particular, the regulations on the authority to investigate according to criminal proceedings of Customs authorities in the fight against smuggling are still limited. In fact, when detecting these violations, the customs authority must forward them to the investigating authority. This takes a lot of time in administrative procedures, and does not guarantee the promptness in detecting and investigating criminals.

By Thai Binh/KieuOanh

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