On August 6, Bloomberg reported that Kweku Bedu-Addo, chief executive officer for Standard Chartered Southern Africa, issued an emailed statement in which he urged the financial sector to “become attuned to the [illicit wildlife trade] activity that courses through the system and apply the armory of tools that they use to fight other financial crimes.” The Bloomberg article stated that the illicit wildlife trade “has an estimated annual worth of as much as $23 billion, according to the Zoological Society of London’s website,” and that a 2017 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report found “that only 26% of the 45 jurisdictions it surveyed investigated the financial flows behind the crime.”
Bedu-Addo told Bloomberg that Standard Chartered “is training its bank-branch tellers to spot transactions that could be linked to the illegal wildlife trade and has made them a focus for its financial-crime investigators,” and “is also educating its clients about the threat.” In his view, “This isn’t simply a conservation issue – the reality is that the illegal wildlife trade is an organized crime which fuels violence, drives corruption, and impoverishes communities.”
Bedu-Addo also cautioned that 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.
Because ringleaders in the illegal wildlife trade “need to move, store and realize proceeds,” Bedu-Addo explained, that “gives governments and the financial sector the power to identify criminal networks via their financial footprints and help close the net.”
Note: Bedu-Addo’s statement indicates that Standard Chartered is following through on a number of commitments that it made last October to combat the illegal wildlife trade. At that time, another Standard Chartered official declared (in language virtually identical to Bedu-Addo’s) the bank’s commitment to “disrupting the business model,” identifying the “Achilles heel of the illegal wildlife trade [a]s the very thing that motivates it – the money,” and criminals’ “need to move, store and realise proceeds.”
As part of that commitment — under the aegis of the United for Wildlife Financial Task Force of The Royal Foundation of The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke & Duchess of Sussex — Standard Chartered focused on “training bank branch tellers in source countries to spot the signs, making illegal wildlife trade a focus for our financial crime investigators, and enabling those efforts through new artificial intelligence and machine-learning tools,” as well as “sharing what we have learnt with our correspondent banking clients around the world.”
Other objectives that Standard Chartered stated in 2018 included “enabl[ing] conservation activists to deliver intelligence right to the heart of the financial sector;” “creat[ing] a broad, transnational coalition of partners that gives law enforcement, regulators and banks, working with not-for-profits, the ability to spot patterns that no one can see alone’; and “expand[ing] initiatives . . . that strengthen the ability of law enforcement in key hotspots to use financial intelligence.”
It is not too soon for the Task Force to report publicly on the status of its and its members’ efforts to meet these objectives. While certain details must inevitably be kept private, the more that the Task Force can demonstrate that its efforts are achieving meaningful results, the greater the attraction for other financial institutions and law enforcement agencies to join this vital initiative.