East and Southeast Asia customs authorities announce results against drug and wildlife trafficking during the pandemic
A recently concluded joint operation among countries in Asia, the UNODC and the Regional Intelligence Liaison Office Asia Pacific (RILO-AP) of the World Customs Organization (WCO) has resulted in the disruption of criminal networks, as well as insights into the methods used to overcome COVID related border restrictions and transportation limitations.
Between May and September this year, customs authorities of 15 countries and territories (Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong SAR, India, Lao PDR, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam) conducted an operation to disrupt the trafficking of drugs and wildlife products with the support of UNODC and the RILO-AP. Mekong Dragon Operation II follows a coordinated campaign among the 6 countries of the Mekong region in 2019 that was known as Mekong Dragon that resulted in the confiscation of several consignments of drugs and the investigation of connected organized criminal groups. Earlier this year authorities form China and Viet Nam approached the UNODC and RILO AP about a second operational phase with expanded geographic coverage and including protected species products.
Support to Mekong Dragon II cross-border information exchange was provided by the UNODC and RILO-AP to ensure no delays and follow-up. “Major transnational organized crime groups in the region have been largely resilient to COVID-19 – they do not follow the rules countries have to follow, and in some respects the pandemic has been an advantage for them”, remarked Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. He added, “It was important for UNODC to facilitate cooperation and advise along the way. We are now pushing for post-seizure investigations so governments identify related financial transactions and methods of money laundering, pursue the confiscation of assets, and move to the prosecution of networks.”
The four months of the operation resulted in 284 cases across 9 countries and territories and the confiscation of: 1,983 kg of illicit drugs; 108 tons of precursor chemicals; 1,892 kg and 1,567 endangered wildlife products; 82 live wild animals; 145 tons and 999 m3 of protected timber. Seizures of controlled drugs represented 88% of the total number of cases.
The largest number of seizures took place in China and Hong Kong SAR, mirroring legal trade volumes and the movement of shipping containers and parcels. “The Mekong Dragon Operation is a successful example of international cooperation in the fight against transnational organized crime” said Deputy Director-General Wang He from the Anti-Smuggling Bureau of China Customs. “However, our job is not complete until the organizations involved in these criminal activities are dismantled and secured to justice.”
“Mekong Dragon II has been an exceptional platform for cooperation, and we are grateful to the UNODC and RILO AP for the support” remarked Mr. Nguyen Hung Anh, Director of Anti-smuggling and Investigation Department of Viet Nam Customs. “At the same time, the operation is the start of a larger effort, and we will build on what has been done and continue to pursue criminal syndicates.”
Analysis of intelligence and information from Mekong Dragon II is being led by RILO-AP and a detailed summary will be released in the near future. “Customs authorities in Asia-Pacific are truly at the frontline of combatting trafficking both drugs and precursors, and also of protected species. They play an indispensable role in the region, and they have delivered despite COVID-19” commented Mr. Hyungmin BAEK, head of WCO RILO for Asia and the Pacific.