New report to help tackle financial crime linked to wildlife trafficking in Europe

TRAFFIC and WWF are launching the ‘Wildlife Money Trails’ report to help law enforcement authorities and financial institutions uncover financial crimes related to wildlife and timber trafficking in the EU. The report features 16 case studies amounting to 18 million euros of illicit profits.

Wildlife and timber trafficking often involves transnational organised crime networks and generates significant illicit proceeds, billions each year. Despite the seriousness of this criminal activity, related financial investigations and asset recovery approaches remain largely under-utilised in the EU, with investigations and prosecutions of wildlife trafficking still relying primarily on charges for poaching or trafficking. Wildlife criminals are, therefore, not punished for the financial crimes they have committed, and their criminal assets remain in their hands, allowing them to further invest in their illegal business.

Most wildlife traffickers are first and foremost interested in making money. It is the profit that drives, helps sustain and expand their business. We cannot win the fight against wildlife trafficking without targeting what is at the core of the motivation of traffickers,” says Emilie Van der Henst, Senior Manager Wildlife Trafficking at TRAFFIC and WWF.

“Follow the money” approaches not only help identify the higher-level criminals within a network but also help estimate the amount of money generated by criminal activity, which can be the basis for asset recovery. Seizing the assets of criminals is key to weakening the lucrative smuggling business and preventing further business expansion.

Lack of knowledge in financial institutions leads to unnoticed suspicious financial transactions

The Wildlife Money Trails report highlights how financial institutions such as banks can be used by traffickers and can be exposed to money laundering, fraud, and facilitating organised crime.

The report includes 16 case studies, of which 13 cases that include estimates of the value of the illegal activity; the combined value was EUR 18 million. The case studies come from law enforcement authorities in Belgium, Hungary, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Sweden, as well as Europol related to a diverse range of species of timber, birds, reptiles, spiders, mammals and fish. The case studies illustrate some practical approaches to applying “follow the money” principles by law enforcement investigators.

In the EU Action Plan against Wildlife Trafficking launched in November 2022, the European Commission calls for systematically launching financial investigations in organised crime investigations and asset recovery procedures. The EU-funded UNITE project, which produced the Wildlife Money Trails report, aims to encourage law enforcement agencies to further use financial investigations in wildlife and timber trafficking, with the view to seize criminal assets and generate financial crime convictions. It also aims to engage the leadership of financial institutions based in Europe to look at money laundering risks linked to wildlife trafficking.


The report has been funded by the European Union’s Internal Security Fund — Police. The content of this press release represents the views of the authors only and is his/her sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.