U.S arrests leaders of major drug and ivory smuggling network in Africa

Press statement 

Elephant Crisis Fund statement: U.S arrests leaders of major drug and ivory smuggling network in Africa

June 13, 2019 US enforcement agencies have arrested two kingpins at the heart of a major drug and ivory smuggling network in Africa. The arrests were made following an in-depth investigation by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration and law enforcement agencies and conservation partners.  The indictment against the two arrested and two other criminal leaders who remain fugitives, alleges conspiracy to smuggle at least 190 kilograms of rhinoceros horns, at least ten tons of elephant ivory valued at more than $7 million and 10 kilograms of heroin.

The Elephant Crisis Fund (ECF) a joint initiative between the Wildlife Network Conservation and Save The Elephants in partnership with the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, supports partners across Africa to bring ivory traffickers to justice and protect elephants. 

Against this backdrop, the ECF congratulates the Southern District of New York, the U.S Fish & Wildlife Service and all organisations who collaborated in the efforts to arrest the suspects and extradite them to the U.S for sentencing. The arrests are a major breakthrough in global efforts to stamp out the illegal wildlife trade and provide solid proof that the trade is linked to serious organized crime including narcotics and money laundering.

Achieving arrests and convictions of high-level traffickers, who many never actually handle ivory, is a big challenge for law enforcement agencies due to courtroom corruption and evidence tampering. These arrests, however, send a clear message to high-level traffickers who think they are untouchable that wildlife trafficking is no longer an easy or safe form of crime. 

This case also exposes the deep transnational criminal links between East and West Africa - one of the alleged criminal leaders was arrested in Senegal and is awaiting extradition, while another was arrested in Uganda and is now facing trial in the U.S. 

The Director of the Elephant Crisis Fund, Chris Thouless says: “It is the first time foreign nationals have been extradited and brought to trial in the US for combined wildlife and narcotics offences.  The arrests are the results of an impressive level of collaboration between the US government and law enforcement authorities in Africa. The hope is that this case will inspire other governments to cooperate. It is the just the beginning of a significant effort that could be a game changer”

Africa’s elephant populations are declining at an alarming rate and until ivory ceases to be a commodity, elephant lives will continue to hang in the balance. The significant strides taken by U.S authorities and other organisations to infiltrate transnational criminal enterprises and arrest their leaders is a positive step in the campaign to stamp out the global ivory trade once and for all.

Read more: https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/pr/members-african-criminal-enterprise-charged-large-scale-trafficking-rhinoceros-horns

For more information contact

Jane Wynyard

Head of Communications

Elephant Crisis Fund

+254 0708 669 635