SARs show uptick in high-stakes wildlife trafficking


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Spreading zoonotic diseases tied to financial crime, wildlife trafficking

Illegal wildlife trafficking is big business around the world, and it’s growing even bigger. And the stakes are high–from funding organized crime and terror to destroying biodiversity, damaging fragile ecosystems, and increasing the likelihood of spreading of zoonotic diseases.

FinCEN reported in late December on its analysis of a rise in Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) related to trafficking wildlife. The report aims to further inform efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and the associated movement of illicit proceeds, which are estimated to be between $7 and $23 billion per year and account for a quarter of all wildlife trade.

Wildlife trafficking is a major transnational organized crime that fuels corruption, threatens biodiversity, damages fragile ecosystems, and can have a significant negative impact on public health and the economy.  It involves the illicit trade of protected animals, animal parts, and derivatives thereof, including procurement, transport, and distribution, in violation of international or domestic law, and money laundering related to this activity.  To move, hide, and launder their proceeds, wildlife traffickers exploit weaknesses in financial and non-financial sectors, enabling further wildlife crimes and damaging financial integrity.

“[Our] report demonstrates the critical role that financial institutions play in identifying wildlife trafficking and protecting the U.S. financial system from associated illicit finance through compliance with their BSA obligations,” said FinCEN Acting Director Himamauli Das.

FinCEN’s analysis of wildlife trafficking-related Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) indicates that wildlife trafficking is affecting the U.S. financial sector.  Overall, wildlife trafficking-related SARs filed between January 2018 and October 2021 trended significantly up and SARs filed in 2021 are on track to meet or exceed the amount of SARs filed in 2020 based on current trends.

FinCEN is calling attention to this threat because of:  (1) its strong association with corruption and transnational criminal organizations, two of FinCEN’s national anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism priorities published in June 2021; (2) a need to enhance reporting and analysis of related illicit financial flows; and, (3) wildlife trafficking’s contribution to biodiversity loss, damage to fragile ecosystems, and the increased likelihood of spreading of zoonotic diseases.


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