Anti-money laundering law brings hope in fight against wildlife trade

Natural Resources Minister Xavier Jayakumar at the launch of a joint task force to protect the Malayan tiger earlier this year. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: While an ongoing enforcement operation to protect Malaysia’s wildlife has yet to reach any convictions, the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) is confident it’s on the right track.

More than 60 arrests have been made and animal parts such as elephant tusks, deer antlers and various skins seized in a joint operation by the department, the police and various federal and state agencies and other organisations since September.

Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, director-general of wildlife.

The director-general of wildlife, Abdul Kadir Abu Hashim, said four suspects were arrested in November under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act for the first time.

Wildlife crimes in Malaysia have been included under the law since 2014, which allows the freezing, seizure and forfeiture of assets as well as hefty fines in the millions and jail sentences of up to 15 years.

Kadir said 13 bank accounts belonging to the four suspects and their family members reportedly containing about RM1.58 million had been frozen. Five cars – including a Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Honda – have also been seized.

He praised the legislation as an effective means of curtailing the illegal wildlife trade, although the law, known as Amla, has yet to be used to sentence illegal wildlife traffickers in Malaysia.

“Amla allows us to totally block the criminals’ activities because we can freeze or seize their money and assets, which indirectly cripples them,” he told FMT.

He said the joint operation, Ops Bersepadu Khazanah, would be held over 24 series throughout 2020. The target is to cripple illegal hunting activities and destroy the traps installed in forests.

“We will keep holding Ops Bersepadu Khazanah until we can eradicate the illegal trafficking and hunting of wild animals in our forests,” he added.

The illegal trade in wildlife is regarded by a United Nations agency as the fourth most profitable criminal trafficking enterprise behind drugs, arms and human trafficking. It generates an estimated US$20 billion annually – and Malaysia is regarded as one of the trade’s global hubs.

Wildlife monitoring network TRAFFIC earlier this month stated that 21 wildlife crime cases had been opened since Ops Bersepadu Khazanah was launched three months ago.

In one of the largest cases last month, more than 500 turtles, about 100 civets and 26 water monitor lizards were seized in Kelantan just before the consignment was to be shipped to exotic meat markets in Vietnam.

The organisation’s director for Southeast Asia, Kanitha Krishnasamy, said prosecution under Amla would make the traffickers realise that “wildlife crime is a serious crime and the repercussions are severe”, as traffickers rake in huge profits at the expense of national security and natural resources.

“If we don’t demonstrate that by action – investigate the trail of people and money – wildlife crime will never be viewed seriously and we will always be on the losing end of this battle,” she told FMT.