Envoys 'engaging in illegal ivory trade'

Thursday August 11 2016
eac pic

Cameroonian authorities setting ablaze some 2,000 illegally trafficked elephant tusks and more than 1,753 ivory products seized from traffickers April 19, 2016. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Accredited diplomats from the Far East countries such as North Korea were continually getting involved in trafficking of wildlife products, report says.

An investigation published by a Swiss anti-organised crime watchdog says officials attached with the North Korea embassies in southern Africa have been taking advantage of their immunities to ferry illegal ivory, rhino horn and other banned wildlife goods, and may have passed through ports in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Legally immune

The report, Crime, Conservation and Criminal Networks in Illicit Rhino Horn Trade by the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime, lists a number of loopholes which traffickers were using to dodge security checks at ports. And, it appears, ‘diplomatic bags’ which were legally immune from scrutiny were the mode of choice.

“For diplomats with a criminal bent, the privileges that they enjoy in terms of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations present a tantalising opportunity to commit a perfect crime,” says Julian Rademeyer, an investigative journalist who authored the report, referring to the treaty that grants immunities and privileges to diplomats.

Ports of entry

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“Less well known is the involvement of North Korean diplomatic missions in the illicit rhino horn and ivory trade,” the report says.

Usually, items shipped to or from embassies are not subjected to scrutiny at ports of entry. And these diplomats should not be subjected to checks or their premises or cars checked without their consent.

Drawing interviews with officials in governments, conservationists and law enforcement agencies across the southern Africa, Europe and Asia, the investigation found that diplomats and security officials themselves have been involved in poaching, smuggling and organised crime.