Crackdown on a Vietnamese Ivory Criminal Syndicate

Operation “Ivory Stops at Ivory Coast”

On 18th January 2018, the EAGLE Network and the government of Ivory Coast began the coordination of Operation “Ivory Stops at Ivory Coast”, a crackdown on an international ivory trafficking network. The leader, a Vietnamese national, was arrested in Abidjan with five other members of his network, a criminal syndicate that has been operating for years in at least seven different countries and is estimated to have generated the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants for their tusks. Last week’s arrests led to the confiscation of 478 kg ivory, over half a ton of pangolin scales, some packed and ready for export, four illegal handguns, leopard parts, 7 cutting and carving machines and more contraband. The head of the criminal organization in Cote d’Ivoire is directly linked to two prior seizures, one in Vietnam and another in Cambodia, where 619 kg and 941 kg of Ivory seized by authorities, respectively.

The arrests were carried by the UCT (The Unit Against Transnational Organized Crime) and the Ministry of Waters and Areas with the assistance of the EAGLE Network, a wildlife law enforcement NGO. The US Government carried out an extensive investigation against the international trafficking ring. The arrests are the result of a tight American-Cote d’Ivoirian enforcement collaboration.

The exposed modus operandi of the syndicate consisted of hollowing out timber logs, hiding ivory inside them, and filling up the remaining space with wax. The logs were then reclosed with glue, mixed with normal timber, and exported in containers to Asia.

The same method has been observed in additional seizures, in Kenya and Mozambique where more than two tons of ivory have been seized. At least four African countries (Kenya, Mozambique, Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire ) and two Asian ones (Cambodia, Vietnam) are implicated, making this criminal syndicate an extremely important one in wildlife trafficking.

Phone analysis shows calls from those arrested to three known tax haven countries. The extent of the money laundering hints at the level of organization in the syndicate's operations.

One of those arrested in operation “Ivory Stops at Ivory Coast”, a Chinese national, was found in possession of pages listing the identities of young Ivorian women, their pictures, height and weight, and whether they had a female genital mutilation. This starts an investigation on Traffic in Persons for prostitution in China using fake passports.

“Ivory trafficking rings operate internationally and the effective response to it is international cooperation” said Ofir Drori, the Founding Director of the EAGLE Network, specialized in wildlife law enforcement,  “the Government of Ivory Coast and the USA Government showcase that international cooperation can get kingpins behind bars”

 “Unfortunately, most large ivory seizures are not followed by any arrests. But with a hands-on approach and international cooperation, as we had here between Ivory Coast and the United States, we can get the kingpins behind bars where they belong.”


For media inquiries:

Ofir Drori -                 +254 778 223 885

Rens Ilgen -              +225 78 17 24 60