International Wildlife Trafficker Arrested in The Netherlands with ELI Support

  • By ELI
  • February 28, 2024
Earth League International (ELI) and Partners Uncover a Major Wildlife Trafficking Network in Europe, Leading to a Law Enforcement Operation and Arrest in The Netherlands.

Los Angeles, 28 February 2024 – After a year and a half of investigative work across The Netherlands and other European countries, Earth League International (ELI) and its partners have successfully concluded an investigation into one of Europe’s key wildlife trafficking networks.

Operation OLD WORLD, launched by ELI in 2021, was dedicated to exposing and gathering intelligence on an intricate network responsible for smuggling illegal wildlife products from China to Europe, largely intended for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) purposes.

This operation, carried out in partnership with Dutch foundations SPOTS, IUCN NL, and Bears in Mind, resulted in the delivery of a comprehensive Confidential Intelligence Brief (CIB) to the Dutch authorities. The CIB unveiled the trafficking networks’ operations, the main traffickers, their modus operandi, and convergence with other serious crimes.

Leveraging the intelligence provided by ELI, the Intelligence and Investigation Service of the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA-IOD) was able to advance and broaden their investigation. This collaborative effort culminated last week in the arrest of an allegedly important wildlife trafficker based in Rotterdam, the seizure of various illegal products, and the dismantlement of a trafficking network that had been operating in Europe for years.

Wildlife trafficking EuropeThe official press release issued by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) can be found here.

More information about this operation and wildlife used for Traditional Chinese Medicine can be found in the newly published report, Unveiling Criminal networks behind traditional medicine in the netherlands_22-02-2024 released in collaboration with SPOTS, IUCN NL, and Bears in Mind.

The European reach of the trafficking network

According to ELI’s intelligence, most customers buying these products are in the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Sweden. The network appears to have a stable customer base of 800 people and stores throughout Europe.

Using also information provided by ELI, the NVWA-IOD launched a criminal investigation that uncovered the suspect’s involvement in the sale of various illegal traditional Chinese medicines (TCM). Law enforcement seized forty-four boxes containing raw wildlife products, along with a substantial amount of Saussurea costusroot, sourced from a plant that is critically endangered and under strict protection. DNA testing is now being done. In addition, Dutch authorities discovered a quantity of powder derived from the ephedra plant. This plant contains ephedrine which is prohibited in The Netherlands.

Wildlife trafficker
Crime Map of the European Wildlife Trafficking Network. ©Earth League International

ELI’s investigation has revealed that illegal wildlife products are predominantly exported from China to the EU via the New Silk Road by train, with additional transport by air and sea. These items are often concealed among legal goods, posing a significant challenge for law enforcement agencies tasked with their identification.

Frequently, the contraband is smuggled into The Netherlands using vans and cars, and from there, it circulates freely throughout the rest of the EU, taking advantage of the region’s open borders and infrequent checks.

In numerous instances, the wildlife products are transported as powdered granules, which can be later separated and ground down. This process further complicates detection efforts by investigative authorities. ELI’s investigators have also discovered that the trafficking network, operating from The Netherlands and across Europe, has acquired new machinery capable of grinding raw wildlife products and pressing them into pills, ready for distribution and sale across Europe.

ELI’s investigation collected information also on other serious crimes allegedly perpetrated by members of this criminal network, including money laundering and human smuggling.

“We are confident that the dismantling of this network will significantly curtail the illegal wildlife trade to Europe and serve as a deterrent to other trafficking networks,” stated Andrea Crosta, Executive Director of Earth League International. “We extend our heartfelt congratulations to the Netherlands Intelligence and Investigation Service of the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA-IOD) for their exceptional investigative work leading to this arrest.”

ELI’s Global Operations and Impact

ELI’s operation in Europe, along with others conducted globally, underscores the discreet yet impactful work of ELI’s investigators, specialized in collecting intelligence and first-hand evidence about the world’s most important international wildlife traffickers and environmental criminals. With the critical work of ELI’s crime analysts and under the supervision of ELI’s Executive Director and other intelligence specialists within the organization, these operations aim at disrupting and destroying trafficking networks involved not only in wildlife trafficking and environmental crimes but also other serious crimes such as money laundering, human smuggling, and corruption.

This marks the second high-profile law enforcement operation targeting international wildlife trafficking networks in less than nine months, triggered by ELI’s discreet investigative work. Following the arrests by U.S. authorities of high-profile wildlife traffickers in California last year, this latest success is a great example of how Earth League International and its partners support law enforcement agencies worldwide in combating wildlife and environmental crime.

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We are former intelligence, law enforcement and security professionals.
We protect Wildlife and our Planet with intelligence-gathering operations and by investigating and exposing wildlife criminals worldwide, including poachers, traffickers, businessmen and corrupt government officials. Earth League International (former Elephant Action League) is a hybrid non-profit organization that merges the worlds of intelligence, investigation and conservation in service of wildlife and the people who protect it.