FINTRAC publishes money laundering indicators related to illegal wildlife trade in support of Project Anton
January, 31 2023, Ottawa Ontario
FINTRAC published today a new Operational Alert, Laundering the Proceeds of Crime from Illegal Wildlife Trade, meant to assist businesses subject to the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act in better identifying and reporting financial transactions related to the laundering of proceeds of crime from illegal wildlife trade. This reporting will facilitate the production of actionable financial intelligence in support of law enforcement investigations of this appalling and cruel crime in Canada and abroad.
FINTRAC’s Operational Alert was developed in support of Project Anton, a new international public-private partnership aimed at improving awareness and understanding of the global threat posed by illegal wildlife trade, and targeting the laundering of proceeds from this despicable crime domestically and internationally. This initiative was named in honour of Anton Mzimba, Head of Security at the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve and a Global Conservation Technical Advisor, who was murdered in 2022 for his passionate commitment to protecting and conserving wildlife. Project Anton is led by Scotiabank and supported by The Royal Foundation’s United for Wildlife network, which was founded by Prince William, FINTRAC, AUSTRAC’s Fintel Alliance in Australia, the South African Anti-Money Laundering Integrated Task Force, the United Kingdom Financial Intelligence Unit, Western Union and numerous other government, law enforcement and non-governmental organizations in Canada and around the world with unique knowledge, expertise and tools in combatting illegal wildlife trade.
Illegal wildlife trade is a major and growing threat to the global environment and biodiversity, imperilling endangered species already on the edge of survival, and threatening fragile habitats, communities and livelihoods. Illegal wildlife trade can also have significant public health impacts, as the circulation of animal parts increases the chances of disease transmission and can be a path for future pandemics.
The Financial Action Task Force has identified illegal wildlife trade as a major transnational organized crime, which generates billions – some have estimated approximately 20 billion (USD) – of criminal proceeds each year. According to the Wildlife Justice Commission, illegal wildlife trade is considered a lucrative, low risk and high reward criminal activity, and often involves fraud schemes, tax evasion and other serious crimes that facilitate the illicit enterprise. Organized crime groups involved in wildlife crime are often also involved in other domestic and internationally connected criminal activity such as human trafficking, drug trafficking, firearm trafficking and money laundering.
A 2020 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime highlighted that suspected illegal wildlife traffickers from 150 different countries had been identified, illustrating that wildlife crime is a global issue. By following the money and generating actionable financial intelligence for law enforcement in Canada and around the world, Project Anton’s dedicated global network of public and private sector organizations will play a key role in helping to identify, pursue and prosecute perpetrators – and broader networks – linked to illegal wildlife trade.
“Illegal wildlife trade is an appalling and merciless crime committed for financial gain and to advance other criminal enterprises. It threatens our environment, public health, prosperity, and the safety and security of our communities. Together with our dedicated Project Anton partners in Canada and around the world, we are determined to follow the money and leverage the power of financial intelligence to help target, disrupt and dismantle the organized criminal networks that profit from this insidious illicit activity.”
“Project Anton is an important next step in the fight against illegal wildlife trade and I am proud of the leadership role Scotiabank has taken on this initiative. Through international expansion and collaboration across borders and disciplines, we are helping to uncover these crimes and aiding law enforcement and regulatory agencies in the identification of perpetrators. The Project is a testament to the value that financial intelligence can bring to help identify the criminal networks seeking to profit from the exploitation of vulnerable and endangered species.”
“The illegal wildlife trade is one of the largest financial crimes blighting our world but when it comes to tackling it, we rarely do what we do with other serious crimes: follow the money to uncover and apprehend the criminal syndicate and seize their ill-gotten gains. Traffickers brazenly exploit global financial systems to move the proceeds of their crimes. At United for Wildlife, we bring together public, private and not-for-profit sector partners to collaborate in detecting and disrupting these criminal activities. We are delighted to support Project Anton, which brings new partners to the initiative and creates further global commitment to fight the illegal wildlife trade, and support protected species, biodiversity and the affected communities.”
“Criminals rely on financial services to enable their activities, whether drug, human or wildlife trafficking. AUSTRAC’s Fintel Alliance pools the diverse capability of government agencies and financial institutions to generate financial intelligence to disrupt crime, and has led to the targeting of transnational organized crime syndicates trading in illegal wildlife. Initiatives like Project Anton reinforce the impact that close cooperation between governments and industry can have in combatting crime.”
“The heinous illegal trade in wildlife and wildlife products has deep and lasting effects which, if left to continue unabated, will encourage criminals and syndicates to ramp up their activities. We all stand to lose precious and finite resources in the scramble for Illegal trade in wildlife. For this reason and more, we should never lose sight of the need to follow the money and the financial flows associated with illegal wildlife trade. Deep knowledge and understanding on this will give us greater insight on the financial touchpoints of syndicates and criminals. Their financial fingerprints are what we need to help fight illegal wildlife trade and associated crimes and bring to justice the criminal bosses who ultimately benefit from these crimes. It is a fight we need to commit to and prioritize. The obligation is ours to ensure the safety of our wildlife and the time to act is now.”
“For some time now those of us who have been combatting wildlife crime have recognised that there is a strong connection with organized crime and the way forward is to look closely at the financial element driving it. Thanks to a number of excellent initiatives enabling law enforcement to work closely with the financial sector at a global level, we are starting to see some significant results that can and do dismantle criminal networks. This is one of those initiatives that will undoubtedly have a positive impact and we look forward to working closely with Canada to ensure it does.”
“Western Union vigorously condemns illegal wildlife trade, and we devote significant resources to help detect and deter the misuse of our services. As criminals become increasingly savvy in moving money to pursue illicit ends, we are constantly adapting and evolving our systems and collaboration efforts to enable a more sophisticated level of detection and deterrence against illegal activity. We are honored to play a part in Project Anton, and together with our partners, collaborate to protect our communities, our environment, and our global financial system.”
- FINTRAC’s new Operational Alert, Laundering the Proceeds of Crime from Illegal Wildlife Trade, is based on a strategic analysis of suspicious transaction reporting received by the Centre and it is supported by credible and compelling domestic and international research, as well as information and input from Project Anton partners.
- FINTRAC identified the suspected importation of wildlife into Canada, particularly from China and Sub-Saharan regions of Africa, and the suspected exportation of wildlife from Canada to other jurisdictions, including China and the United States.
- Various money laundering techniques were identified, including the use of nominees, front companies owned by traffickers or their associates, and funds layered between related accounts.
- Corruption is one of the most important facilitators of illegal wildlife trade. Every stage in the illegal trade chain is affected, from poaching and illegal harvesting through transportation, processing and export, to sale and the laundering of proceeds.
- Project Anton’s partners include Scotiabank, United for Wildlife, FINTRAC, AUSTRAC’s Fintel Alliance, South African Anti-Money Laundering Integrated Task Force, UK Financial Intelligence Unit – National Crime Agency, Western Union, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency, and the Wildlife Justice Commission.
- It has been estimated that 55 African elephants are poached on the African continent every day. In Canada, bears are killed for their bile, paws and other parts, which are then sold for a large profit domestically and internationally. Moose, wolves, reptiles and narwhals, among others, are also considered species at risk for the Canadian illegal wildlife market.
- Project Anton is modelled after Canada's other successful, ongoing public-private partnerships, which are aimed at combatting the laundering of proceeds related to human trafficking for sexual exploitation (Project Protect), online child sexual exploitation (Project Shadow), trafficking of illicit fentanyl (Project Guardian), romance fraud (Project Chameleon), illicit cannabis activities (Project Legion) and money laundering in British Columbia and across Canada (Project Athena).
- FINTRAC 2021–22 Annual Report, Safe Canadians, Secure Economy
- United for Wildlife
- AUSTRAC and Fintel Alliance
- South African Anti-Money Laundering Integrated Task Force
- UK Financial Intelligence Unit
- Western Union
- Environment and Climate Change Canada
- Fisheries and Oceans Canada
- Royal Canadian Mounted Police
- Canada Border Services Agency
- Wildlife Justice Commission
Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada
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