3 ivory traffickers arrested with 252 kg of ivory

On Wednesday 10 October 2018 3 traffickers were arrested with 167 kg ivory in Cotonou, the capital of Benin. They carried all 167 kg of the ivory in three bags into the hotel room where they were surprised by the operation team, consisting of Police and officers of DGEFC (Direction Générale des Eaux, Forêts et Chasse) and supported by AALF-B team, member of the EAGLE Network, in the middle of the transaction, and all three of them ended behind bars.

The head of this criminal activity, Salvador Hounye, is a real estate agent with his business located in Cotonou, but the investigation revealed that he used it to cover his illegal activity. Another 85 kg of ivory was found during a search in his office, so the total amount is 252 kg, cut in 78 pieces. Hounye has links to criminal gangs, trafficking ivory in Benin, but also in other African countries, including Ivory Coast and Togo. He was arrested in the possession of financial documents, with copies of checks showing amounts up to 1,000,000 EUR, and 9 checks books in his bags. His financial activities concerned his real estate company, but that he has also supposedly set up an NGO. Further investigation will reveal if the suspicion of money laundering from ivory trafficking, using his 9 bank accounts for both his company and NGO, is confirmed.

The population of African Elephants is still in decline due to high levels of poaching. The ivory is smuggled from one African country to another by highly organized syndicates of traffickers, spread over the entire continent. These international criminals activate and pay poachers, and store large amounts of ivory in well concealed storages often in port towns, from where large shipments are sent by boats in containers to South-East Asia. No impact of the last year ban on Chinese ivory market has been observed so far, the bloody ivory business is still going on.

The operation took place at a time the international community gathered in London for a UK Government organized international conference on fighting International Wildlife Trafficking with high level attendance of high-level government officials from around the world.

“Wildlife trafficking involves high level of sophistication and organized crime,” says Ofir Drori, Founding Director of the EAGLE Network, “it is important to fight the financial crimes that are an integral part sustaining these criminal networks. When we put handcuffs on these criminals' hands we have to handcuff their dollars too.”

Trafficking ivory is illegal in all African countries, but the penalties vary. In Benin Hounye is facing the maximum penalty 3 years in jail, but if the investigation proves that he was involved in international trafficking, the penalty can be 5 years in jail. The government of Benin is planning to carry DNA testing to find the origin populations of elephants killed by this trafficking syndicate to understand better the dynamics of international trade.