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09/09/2019

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Federal partners take new efforts to combat illegal logging in Southern Africa

SEATTLE, Wash. - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) agents joined with various federal partners recently to combat illegal logging through collaborative education. Officials from HSI, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Embassy of Botswana, and U.S. Department of Justice Environmental and Natural Resources Division came together to facilitate an in-depth law enforcement training workshop in Botswana, Aug. 20-22.

The workshop focused on strategies to combat illegal logging and transnational crime in the 200,000 square miles of protected land in the Kavango Zambezi Trans-Frontier Conservation Area (KAZA-TFCA), which is comprised of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

“Illegal logging is an serious environmental crime and one of the largest generators of illicit funds, after counterfeiting and illegal narcotics,” said Brad Bench, special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. “Often times timber is harvested in an under-developed tropical region, like this one in Southern Africa, and then exported to China where it is processed and re-exported globally. While it is widely believed that these types of practices are victimless crimes, that could not be farther from the truth. Not only do these crimes hurt the economy and legitimate businesses, but they also impact consumers directly.”

The three day workshop took place in Kasane, Botswana and included an interdisciplinary cadre of students from customs, police, forestry and local tribal leadership and focused primarily on customs fraud, border enforcement, money laundering, interviewing techniques, prosecution strategies, and the need for trans-national cooperation. Participants also discussed agricultural and urban expansion as the primary causes of forest degradation and deforestation.

“Illegal logging and timber smuggling are complex transnational crimes requiring close coordination between numerous stakeholders,” said Eben Roberts, deputy special agent in charge of HSI Seattle. “HSI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and our other partner agencies are committed to disrupting and dismantling this significant threat to the environment, sustainable forestry, and legitimate trade.”

HSI is a critical investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security and is a vital U.S. asset in combating criminal organizations illegally exploiting America's travel, trade, financial and immigration systems. HSI’s workforce includes special agents, analysts, auditors and support staff. Its men and women are assigned to cities throughout the United States and to offices around the world. HSI’s international force is the department’s largest investigative presence abroad and gives HSI one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

To learn more about HSI’s critical law enforcement mission, please visit https://www.ice.gov/hsi.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 09/09/2019