Financial sector should get involved to turn the tide of endangered species being driven to the point of extinction by demand for illicit products. File Photo: IOL

JOHANNESBURG – The financial system must become attuned to the activity related to illegal wildlife trade and apply the armoury of tools that it uses to fight other financial crimes, the chief executive of banking group Standard Chartered in southern Africa has said.

In a statement, Kweku Bedu-Addo said the financial sector should get involved to turn the tide of endangered species being driven to the point of extinction by the demand for illicit products.

"This isn’t simply a conservation issue. The reality is that the illegal wildlife trade is an organised crime which fuels violence, drives corruption, and impoverishes communities," Bedu-Addo said.

"It is a mistake to think we can just arrest our way out of this problem. Where one shipment is stopped, another will take its place. Instead, we need to disrupt the business model behind the trade. Its Achilles heel is the very thing that motivates it – the money. The need to move, store and realise proceeds gives governments and the financial sector the power to identify criminal networks via their financial footprints and help close the net."

Research shows illegal wildlife trade is worth between $7 billion (R104bn) and $23 billion annually to the criminals behind it and is often linked to other crime, with two-thirds of the cases analysed connected to the narcotics trade.

"However, to date, the illegal wildlife trade has barely received any attention as a form of financial crime," Bedu-Addo said. "In fact, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, only 26 percent of jurisdictions look at the finances behind the trade. That means there is an important opportunity for banks to strengthen the fight against the trade."

He said Standard Chartered was training bank branch tellers to better spot potentially suspicious transactions relating to the illegal wildlife trade, making this crime an area of focus for its financial crime investigators and, through its correspondent banking academies, working with clients to better understand and respond to the trade.

The bank's latest brand campaign, showing across 11 countries, had focused on the trade, he added.

"No one organisation, government or law enforcement agency can combat wildlife trafficking alone. We will only succeed if we work in partnership with each other," the Standard Chartered boss said. 

"It’s time for the financial sector to take a stand, and by working together we can make a real difference."

African News Agency (ANA)