On January 22, ADM Capital Foundation brought together members of the legal community, government, NGOs, as well as financial crime and wildlife investigators to share views on how to combat the trade in illegal wildlife products through Hong Kong.
The question posed at the seminar was how, although small, Hong Kong can play an outsized role in combatting the illegal wildlife trade.
An objective was to highlight the urgent need to address wildlife crime as the transnational, organised and serious criminal activity that it has become.
This is all the more pressing given the growing volume of wildlife seizures in the city – much of it bound for China, which is playing a significant part in driving the current global extinction crisis.
Indeed, as a hub in international trade and finance, Hong Kong is vulnerable to criminal syndicates. Yet this nexus also provides the city with a leadership opportunity in detecting, disrupting, dismantling and deterring the networks engaged in the illegal activity.
Also discussed were the recent legislative amendments, which include increased penalties for CITES appendix I and II species.
Speakers considered additional legislative action, including possibly placing the relevant provisions of Cap. 586, the wildlife ordinance, under Cap. 455, the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance. This would offer additional powers to investigate and prosecute wildlife criminals.
Currently, there is little investigation beyond the mules caught as they arrive at Hong Kong’s airport. This is despite compelling evidence that demonstrates the transnational and organised nature of the groups backing and trafficking wildlife through these mules.
Another option proposed to support both government and prosecutions was a wildlife crime unit that brings together the not insignificant expertise in Hong Kong to assist in providing needed information.
Over the last decade, the estimated value of wildlife products seized has increased 1,600 percent. Indeed, at least 56 seizures of endangered species of wildlife between 2013 and 2017 were valued in excess of HK$1 million.
Of these 23 were valued at over HK$5 million. A single seizure of rosewood was valued at HK$40 million. There is little support currently for investigations of people and the finances behind the smuggling syndicates.
Among those speaking at the seminar were CW Tse, Under Secretary for the Environment; Legislative Councillor Hon. Elizabeth Quat; Special Envoy John Scanlon of African Parks and former Secretary General of CITES; Mark Fenhalls QC, Deputy Head of Chambers of 23 Essex Street; Giovanni Broussard of UNODC; financial forensics analyst Sivan Goldberg; Boris Kwan of the AFCD, Cherry Ho and Michael Ma of the Department of Justice; Mark Poustie of Shanghai University of Finance & Economics Law; Randy Shek and Tim Parker of Denis Chang’s Chambers; and Justin Gosling, a criminal justice specialist.
ADMCF’s Sophie Le Clue and Sam Inglis presented findings of the new Hong Kong Wildlife Trade Working Group Report: Trading in Extinction: The Dark Side of Hong Kong’s Wildlife Trade.
Members of the Hong Kong Wildlife Trade Working Group also spoke, including Associate Professor of Law Amanda Whitfort, Dr Yvonne Sadovy and Dr Caroline Dingle of Hong Kong University, as well as Gary Ades of Kadoorie Farm and Botanical Garden.
The event was co-hosted by Denis Chang’s Chambers and followed on from a 2015 seminar, also organised by ADMCF, examining Hong Kong’s role as a major conduit for trade in threatened species to China.
Agenda: Wildlife Crime Seminar (2.0)