The Paris-based Financial Action Task Force reported on Tuesday that the illegal wildlife trade is a major transnational organized crime that is laundering as much as US$7 billion to US$23 billion in global profits each year.
In Europe, juvenile glass eels can be worth up to US$6,000 per kilo, according to FATF, an intergovernmental organization that sets global standards for anti-money laundering and efforts to counter the financing of terrorism and proliferation. Pangolin scales can earn hunters US$700 per kilogram, it said, while rhinoceros horn can fetch up to US$65,000 per kilogram.
The money-laundered profits fuel corruption, threaten biodiversity, and damage public health and the world economy, yet government and law enforcement officials do not focus enough on stopping this, FATF said in its first-ever global report on the illegal wildlife trade.
"To move, hide and launder their proceeds, wildlife traffickers exploit weaknesses in the financial and non-financial sectors, enabling further wildlife crimes and damaging financial integrity," it said in its 69-page report. "Despite this, jurisdictions rarely investigate the financial trail left by this crime."
Criminals' huge profits, ranging from US$7 billion to US$23 billion a year, come to about a quarter of the world's legal wildlife trade, though "the exact range is very challenging to quantify," FATF found.
To obtain those profits, poachers, traffickers and organized crime regularly turn to corruption, complex fraud and tax evasion. Increasingly, online marketplaces, along with mobile and social media-based payments, are used to facilitate the movement of proceeds from wildlife crimes, according to FATF.
The report recommends that authorities view the illegal wildlife trade as a global threat, instead of treating it as a problem only in the places where criminals are illegally harvesting, transporting or selling wild populations of animals and plants, pushing some endangered species towards extinction.
In a video message, Britain's Prince William welcomed FATF's report on the “abhorrent” illegal wildlife trade, which drew on information and case studies from more than 50 nations and the work of United for Wildlife's Financial Taskforce, led by the Duke of Cambridge and The Royal Foundation.
"It underlines the need for us to work together, to tackle the ill-gotten gains of wildlife poachers and traffickers and put a stop to this multibillion-dollar criminal enterprise," said William.
"This will help to improve and coordinate the public and private sectors to detect, disrupt and prevent this crime," he said. "Because it only through prioritizing this issue and following the money that we will stop these criminals in their tracks."