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No organised crime links in illegal wildlife trade cases from 2017-21: Tan Kiat How

Indian Pangolin or Anteater (Manis crassicaudata) one of the most traffic/smuggled wildlife species for its scales, meat etc for medical purposes.
Indian Pangolin or Anteater. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — None of the 18 cases prosecuted for the illegal trade of endangered species between 2017 and 2021 were found to have links with illegal wildlife trade syndicates, or organised crime in Singapore or overseas, said Minister of State for National Development Tan Kiat How in Parliament on Wednesday (2 March).

"We have not received any information from Interpol or our foreign enforcement agency counterparts that these persons (involved in the cases) were acting as part of a larger organised crime syndicate or network," said Tan.

In seven of these cases, the persons prosecuted were involved only in transporting the endangered species. There was no evidence that they were selling the species or keeping a species for personal use.

Of the remaining 11 cases, the persons prosecuted in four cases were found to be transporting the endangered species to sell them and the other seven cases were found to be transporting the indigenous species for their personal use.

Tan was responding to a parliamentary query from Nee Soon Member of Parliament Louis Ng on the illegal import and export of endangered species in the past five years.

Under the Endangered Species (Import & Export) Act, the maximum penalty for illegal import, export and re-export of wildlife is a fine of up to $500,000 and/or two years’ jail. Singapore is also a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the city-state’s strong connectivity makes it a potential route for trafficking syndicates to move their products. "For years, Singapore has intercepted countless illegal shipments of endangered wildlife. But consumer demand keeps the tap flowing, and we need to stop it at the root," said the WWF on its website.

Money trail

Ng followed up with a query on whether NParks is looking into the money trail and doing financial audits for each wildlife crime case, and whether the agency is working with financial institutions to ensure that suspicious transaction reports related to wildlife crime are being filed.

"I think that's the worry on the ground, that we are only catching the runners and not putting an active dent in the illegal wildlife trade," said Ng.

In response, Tan referred Ng to the oral answer given by now Health Minister Ong Ye Kung at a parliamentary sitting last November. Replying on behalf of Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Senior Minister and Minister-in-charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Ong gave a "fuller reply" around the various moves, rules and regulations in place to look at illegal wildlife trade, and money laundering and organised crime.

In addition, the government has enhanced broad understanding of illegal wildlife trade risk by sharing case studies and red flag indicators with banks, traders and agents that apply for trade permits, Tan said. This has helped them to better detect and report suspicious fund flows linked to illegal wildlife trade, he added.

"Notwithstanding that, we will continue to be vigilant to the threat posed by illegal wildlife trade and related money laundering and NParks will work closely with other agencies like MAS and other enforcement agencies in this regard."

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