Four men have been charged in New York with smuggling $7million worth of rhino horn and elephant ivory along with 22lbs of heroin.
All four men were charged as part of a joint investigation by the DEA and Fish and Wildlife Service, but using techniques pioneered by the United for Wildlife charity, which is led by Prince William.
Since 2014, the UFW has sought to expose the deep links between poachers and criminal networks worldwide, and go after those ordering the animal killings.
The charity argued that such networks after often intertwined with those already smuggling drugs, weapons and people – and provide a relatively easy route to dismantling them, since animal smugglers are less scrupulous in their dealings.
Since its founding in 2014, UFW has built up an interlinked network of enforcement agencies, transport companies and banking firms who coordinate to identify suspicious activity, allowing it to be traced back to the source.
While Thursday’s indictment is not the direct result of UFW’s work, it does use the same joined-up thinking, as evidenced by the fact that heroin smuggling charges form part of the indictment.
According to the department of justice, the four men had run the alleged smuggling ring since 2012 until just two weeks ago.
During that time, they had been involved in the trafficking of horn and ivory from more than 35 rhinoceros and 100 elephants.
Kromah, who is originally from Liberia, was arrested in Uganda on June 12, 2019, and expelled to the United States.
He was arraigned before U.S. Magistrate Judge Katharine H. Parker earlier on Thursday and detained.
Cherif, a citizen of Guinea, was arrested in Senegal on June 7, 2019, and remains in custody there pending his extradition to the US.
Surur and Ahmed, both from Kenya, remain at large.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: ‘As alleged, these defendants are members of an international conspiracy to traffic in not only heroin but also rhino horns and elephant ivory.
‘The alleged enterprise, responsible for the illegal slaughter of dozens of rhinos and more than 100 elephants, was as destructive to protected species as it was lucrative.’
Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt added: ‘Wildlife trafficking will not be tolerated. It is often intertwined with other major types of criminal activity including conspiracy, smuggling, money laundering and narcotics – all of which are included in the indictment today.
‘The U.S. Department of the Interior remains committed to combating the illegal wildlife trade through the END Wildlife Trafficking Act and the President’s Executive Order on Transnational Organized Crime.’
In May this year, Prince William attended the first United for Wildlife Joint Taskforce meeting to give an update on the organisation’s progress.
During his speech, he said UFW was now working with 150 members across the world, having trained 55,000 staff members at shipping at banking organisations to spot the signs of wildlife trafficking.
Evidence they have gathered supported 52 criminal investigations, played a part in the arrest of 10 traffickers and helped with the seizure of $500,000 in illegal wildlife products, he said.