According to the Report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, Africa is estimated to lose more than $50bn a year in illicit financial flows. Uganda loses an average of $509m in illicit outflows per year. Illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is the fourth-largest illicit activity worldwide, generating $7 – 23bn per year. Little is known about these illicit money flows in source and transit areas like Uganda. A lot of factors come into play, namely lack of political will, lack of transparency, the dependence of Africa on natural resource extraction—a particularly vulnerable loophole for illicit financial flows (IFF), corruption, weak national and regional capacities. All these impede efforts to curb illicit financial flows.
In East Africa, financial investigatory capacity remains limited. The low-risk financial environment has allowed criminal actors to earn vast profits from IWT.
Following the money
Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) is a London and Nairobi-based think-tank, funded by the UK Government via the IWT Challenge Fund. It helps build capacity in detecting and prosecuting wildlife-linked money-laundering across East Africa. RUSI partnered with UCF to pilot a new approach to countering wildlife trafficking by filling the capacity gap in using financial tools to prosecute and close IWT cases.
This project was the first in Uganda to bring together actors from law-enforcement, wildlife, financial and justice sectors – to build investigative capacity specifically around wildlife-linked IFFs. While complementing broader initiatives, the project provided focused training on the particular financial red flags associated with IWT.
Accordingly, UCF supported RUSI’s work in 2016 and early 2017, by connecting them to local actors in law enforcement, legal and judiciary sectors. UCF also helped to host an eight-day training which brought numerous stakeholders together to learn more about how to use financial legislation such as the Anti Money Laundering Act to tackle the criminal networks behind wildlife trafficking in Uganda. They were trained in areas covering both foundation-level, theoretical content, incorporating vital anti-corruption components, as well as technical, case study-based elements. This means high-level cases are elevated in importance and can be committed to the High Court, with more chance of a stronger penalty or longer custodial sentence.
Impact of the project
In the long-run, the training will improve Ugandan (and regional) agencies capacity to investigate and prosecute financial crime tied to illegal wildlife trade. It will therefore disrupt trafficking networks, leading to a decline in poaching and rise in wildlife tourism, and will generate best-practice for wildlife-linked financial capacity-building elsewhere.
Establishing sustainable operating procedures and frameworks for co-operation across agencies (private-public sector partnerships), alongside governmental authorities will prove vital for monitoring and responding to suspicious financial flows.
Complemented by the successes of the Countering Wildlife Crime project and improved investigation and prosecution capability of wildlife crime prosecutors, there is cause for optimism.
To read more on financial investigation to combat wildlife crime download RUSI’s September 2017 publication, “FollowThe Money: Using Financial Investigation to Combat Wildlife Crime”