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INTERPOL: Environmental crimes increasingly converging with crimes like murder and drug trafficking

  • Environmental crimes are becoming increasingly complex, warns a recent report released by INTERPOL.
  • Such crimes often intersect other offences such as murder, corruption, and the trafficking of drugs and weapons, authors write.
  • Tackling such interwoven criminal activities would require a multi-agency approach and increased collaboration, the report notes.

Environmental crimes are becoming increasingly complex, warns a recent report released by INTERPOL.

Such crimes are no longer limited to violations of national and international laws relating to the environment, the report notes, and often intersect other offences such as murder, corruption, and the trafficking of drugs and weapons. This makes law enforcement by environment authorities particularly challenging, the authors write.

“The picture is further complicated when these cross-over offences occur transnationally, sometimes covering multiple jurisdictions and under different legal frameworks,” the authors add.

In 2015, INTERPOL sent out a questionnaire to its 190 member countries to find out details about environmental crimes occurring in those countries.

All 33 countries that completed the survey confirmed observing links between environmental crimes and various non-environmental crimes such as money laundering, tax evasion, piracy, forgery, corporate fraud, illegal immigration, cyber crime, extortion, and drug, human and firearms trafficking.

Deforestation in Borneo. Photo by Rhett Butler.

For example, Australia identified convergence of illegal fishing with Illegal immigration and people smuggling. France identified the practice of transporting concealing weapons in illegally exported waste, and Guatemala identified issuance of fake licenses for trafficking of timber.

In the report, INTERPOL has also recognized how each environmental crime has its “own unique set of challenges and complexities in terms of crime convergence.”

For instance, in crimes relating to forests, criminals often forge or counterfeit permits, falsify documents on custom reports, and sometimes even indulge in violence when tackled.

“This occurred in 2013 in India, when two rangers were allegedly hacked to death by men smuggling red sanders,” the authors write.

In another example, the authors write about how the illegal trade in tigers is linked to other serious crimes like “kidnapping, firearms trading and robbery, money laundering, extortion or murder, and cyber crime in the form of online sale of tiger parts and tiger products.”

Traditionally, environmental crimes have been treated in isolation from other serious crimes, the report notes. In many countries, agencies and authorities responsible for protecting the environment are usually separate from those involved in crimes like corruption, fraud, and terrorism. But the lines between different crimes are becoming increasingly blurred, the report warns.

Peat fire in Riau, Sumatra. Photo by Rhett Butler.

“In the context of environmental crime, criminals operate beyond the streams of illegal harvesting, poaching and trafficking,” the authors write. “They exploit other opportunities in pursuit of their objective, whether it be financial or otherwise, and in doing so draw on other crime types such as corruption, fraud and money laundering to facilitate their primary activity.”

Tackling such interwoven criminal activities would require a multi-agency approach and increased collaboration. INTERPOL suggests some strategies that could be effective, such as engaging with anti-money laundering networks and anti-corruption authorities, developing intelligence sharing agreements between environment authorities and policing agencies, and training countries to identify financial flows associated with environmental crime activity.

Investigating multiples offences could also increase criminal significance, and enhance prosecution prospects and penalties imposed, the authors write.

“As the world’s largest policing organisation with a diverse range of law enforcement portfolios, INTERPOL is well-positioned to lead and support Member Countries and governments in adopting an integrated law enforcement response to complex environmental crime investigations,” the authors write.