Organized crime groups pushing environmental security to tipping point

2 December 2023
COP28: Twin INTERPOL operations underscore organized crime threat to climate goals

LYON, France – Over 70 people have been arrested in two operations to tackle environmental crime coordinated by INTERPOL, which were announced today ahead of a major meeting on crime and the environment taking place at the COP28 Summit.
Environmental crime has become the third most lucrative industry for transnational organized crime groups, generating up to USD 280 billion a year, destabilizing communities, economies and the environment.

Operation Aurum, Nigeria

Conducted across three Nigerian states, Operation Aurum sought to detect and dismantle the criminal networks behind illegal mining, trafficking in mercury and resulting deforestation and poisoning of ecosystems.
Vulnerable communities suffer the adverse effects of pollution and other health-related risks caused by illegal mining, in addition to falling victim to kidnapping, intimidation, forced labour and violence from organized crime networks, and terrorist groups such as Boko Haram.
52 suspects were arrested during the operation (7 - 9 October), with 11 of these considered high-level targets. Some 18 trucks transporting large quantities of illegally mined products were also seized.
Operation Aurum again highlighted that forced labour, notably child labour, was commonplace in mining sites, with most illegal miners recruited, or coerced to work, aged between 12 and 16.

Operation Aurum sought to detect and dismantle the criminal networks behind illegal mining among other activities.
Illegal miners are coerced to work through intimidation and forced labour.
illegal mining and trafficking in mercury result in deforestation and poisoning of ecosystems.

Operation Bahia Negra, Paraguay

This operation targeted networks involved in environmental crimes in the tri-border area (Paraguay, Brazil and Bolivia) of Alto Paraguay which is affected by climate change.
Bahia Negra aimed to dismantle illicit settlements dedicated to illegal hunting, timber trafficking and forced labour, and investigate illicit timber and wildlife cargo trafficking routes.
The operation (16 - 22 October) led to 23 arrests, with six additional suspects identified. Eight of the arrests are linked to an Asian transnational criminal network involved in global wildlife trafficking. Electronic devices were also seized and are undergoing forensic investigation.
The initiative established how trafficking in human beings, firearms, drugs, stolen vehicles and counterfeit goods converge geographically with illegal timber and wildlife trafficking along these routes.
Both operations were funded by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Bahia Negra targeted environmental crime in the tri-border area affected by climate change.
The operation investigated the crime networks behind illicit timber trade and deforestation.
Trafficking in human beings, firearms, drugs, stolen vehicles and counterfeit goods converge geographically with environmental crime.

INTERPOL and the UAE’s I2LEC initiative

“These operations demonstrate how environmental crime is a highly organized transnational criminal activity which requires a strong and internationally coordinated law enforcement response." Stephen Kavanagh, INTERPOL Executive Director of Police Services

“Our partnership with the UAE in this endeavour underlines the escalating threat posed by environmental crime in the age of climate change.”
To maximize the global response, INTERPOL has joined a newly established coalition as part of the International Initiative of Law Enforcement for Climate (I2LEC).
The initiative was founded by the UAE’s Ministry of Interior and is implemented in collaboration with UNODC and other international organizations.
INTERPOL will serve as the lead operational arm of I2LEC with a view to coordinating future operations under its umbrella.
Since it was established 13 years ago, INTERPOL’s environmental security programme has helped drive global operational efforts to bring players together to fight crimes against the planet.