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Environmental Enforcement Awards recognize 8 winners on frontline of protecting our planet

The Awards are given annually for achievement in combatting transboundary environmental crime. Image: Pixabay

Press Release, Mirage News | February 17, 2021

Bangkok, 17 February 2021 – Exceptional efforts on the frontlines to stop environmental crime, including the illegal trade in wildlife and in plastic waste, have been recognized by the United Nations, INTERPOL and the World Customs Organization with the presentation of the 5th Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards. The Awards are given annually for achievement in combatting transboundary environmental crime.

Winners have worked across multiple countries, made dozens of arrests, and seized hundreds of endangered species and thousands of tonnes of illegal waste worth millions of dollars. Recipients have been nominated for their contributions across the categories of impact, gender leadership, innovation, integrity and collaboration.

“Transboundary environmental crime threatens both planet and people,” said Dechen Tsering, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Director and Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “With COVID-19, the importance of preventing the illegal trade in wildlife and regulating plastic waste is becoming more and more apparent. Through the work of the UN and INTERPOL, we have improved the governance of transboundary environmental crime, but this means nothing without enforcement. That’s why the work of this year’s winners is vital. They are on the frontlines of environmental protection.”

Environmental crime is the fourth largest illegal activity after drug smuggling, counterfeiting and human trafficking. The value of crimes such as illegal trade in wildlife and forest products, illegal waste dumping, smuggling of ozone-depleting substances, and illegal mining is estimated at up to $258 billion per year.

The 2020 winners of the 5th Asia Environmental Enforcement Awards are:

Sudarshan Panthee & Birendra Singh Johari, Central Investigation Bureau, Nepal Police

Category: Impact

Inspector Panthee and Sub-Inspector Johari led a years-long investigation that resulted in the arrest of a notorious illegal wildlife trader, Kunjok Chiring Tamang, operating between China, India and Nepal on 25 June 2020. Tamang had been on the run since 2005, when he was convicted as the main trafficker after a seizure of 5 tiger skins, 36 leopard skins, 238 otter skins and 113 Kg of tiger bones near the Nepal-China border. The two officers showed exemplary commitment and perseverance in tracking Tamang through supply networks and financial analysis, uncovering hidden identities and further revealing crimes of money laundering.

Philippines Operation Group on Ivory and the Illegal Wildlife Trade (POGI)

Category: Impact

POGI, a multi-agency government task force, made a number of key arrests during the nomination period. Foremost amongst them was Sharon Jonion, a notorious online wildlife trader who had eluded authorities for 5 years. The team recovered 13 rare animals during this arrest. With representation from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Biodiversity Management Bureau (DENR-BMB) and the National Bureau of Investigation – Environmental Crime Division (NBI-ECD). the POGI team has provided an excellent example of collaboration and coordination between enforcement agencies leading to improved impact of operations against the illegal trade in wildlife.

Operasi Bersepadu Khazanah (Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Peninsular Malaysia & Royal Malaysia Police Taskforce)

Category: Impact

In 2019, Malaysia launched a special initiative to increase the protection of tigers – “Save Our Malaysian Tiger Campaign”. Under this campaign, Malaysia set up the Operasi Bersepadu Khazanah (OBK) taskforce to protect Malayan tigers from poachers and to increase patrols in protected areas of peninsular Malaysia. OBK has led to arrests of 87 wildlife criminals (49 foreign, 33 local), destruction of 460 wire snares and a total seizure valued at MYR 2.7 million (approximately US$670,000). OBK combined the forces of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) Peninsular Malaysia and the Royal Malaysia Police, who also worked closely with state agencies and non-governmental organizations. With the operation’s success, the taskforce has expanded geographical operations into Sabah and Sarawak in West Malaysia to further protect wildlife from environmental crime.

Sasmita Lenka, Divisional Forest Officer, Athgarh Forest Division

Category: Impact and Gender Leadership

Sasmita Lenka manages a team of 92 who have managed to disrupt pangolin smuggling in the state of Odisha in Eastern India. Between August 2019 and April 2020, Lenka’s team detained some 28 persons and seized three live Indian pangolins, one dead pangolin and 5 kgs of pangolin scales. In one case in December 2019, she and her team busted an international pangolin smuggling racket by arresting 8 suspects. Her awareness drives have helped local communities provide information to authorities on potential trafficking operations. Lenka has also filled roles often dominated by men with female staff, including as deputy rangers, foresters and forest guards.

John Simon, District Customs Collector, Philippines Bureau of Customs

Category: Impact and Integrity

Braving threats to his life, John Simon, a District Customs Collector of the Philippine Bureau of Customs, upended a multimillion dollar smuggling operation, seizing 10,000 tons of illegal waste being smuggled into the Philippines. After the seizure, Simon pursued legal avenues to have the waste repatriated to the country of origin in accordance with the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal. Collaborating with other agencies and advocacy groups, he helped to initiate court proceedings against three foreign suspects implicated in the smuggling operation and to propose new legislation on the illegal importation of waste. Simon also spearheaded the cleaning and restoration of an imported waste dumping site.

Wildlife Crime Control Bureau, India

Category: Innovation

Recognizing the ever-growing presence of the online illegal wildlife trade, the Wildlife Crime Control Bureau initiated Operation WILDNET-II to deter potential traders and bring offenders to justice. WCCB created awareness-raising programmes with stakeholders and other agencies and worked through social media and online trade portals such as Indiamart, Amazon, and OLX, to share information on illegal wildlife trade activity. The operation resulted in the arrest of a dozen offenders and the initiation of 9 criminal cases. An array of wildlife species and commodities were also seized, including falcons, pangolins, rhino horn, coral, sea fans, antlers, civet cats, parakeets, and turtles.

Enforcement Division, Department of Environment, Malaysia

Category: Collaboration

Working closely with its line Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change, and authorities from the United Kingdom, Malaysia’s Department of Environment repatriated 42 containers of illegally shipped plastic waste in November 2019. The Government of Malaysia has aimed to address concerns that the country was one of the world’s largest importers of plastic waste. As a result of the actions taken by the Enforcement Division within the Department of Environment, more than 200 containers of illegal plastic waste have been repatriated and multiple illegal plastic recycling facilities have been closed.

Adi Karya Tobing, Police Chief Commissioner of Indonesian National Police, Sugeng Irianto, Police Commissioner of Indonesian National Police, & Rasio Ridho Sani, Director General for Law Enforcement, Ministry of Environment and Forestry

Category: Collaboration

Police Chief Commissioner Adi Karya Tobing, Police Commissioner Sugeng Irianto, and Rasio Ridho Sani, Director General for Law Enforcement led an investigation that resulted in the conviction and dismantling of a large-scale wildlife crime network trafficking endangered species parts from Bali to the Netherlands. Tracking down a Dutch suspect living in Bali, Tobing, Irianto, Sani and their teams were able to effect an arrest and seize many CITES-listed species. Authorities seized 53 Buru babirusa skulls, more than 100 sawfish rostrums, huge amounts of coral and snakeskins, whale bone and more. This seizure was used in the court case as evidence, leading to prosecution and imprisonment of the convicted individual. Court proceedings have also been initiated against the suspect in the Netherlands. This was the first time that the Police, the Office of the Director General and Indonesian and Dutch authorities had cooperated on an environmental crime case of this scale.