On Wednesday 30th September the Malawi Police Service and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife held a joint press conference to underline their continued commitment to fighting wildlife and forest crime in Malawi.

The following is the text of the statement read by Stan Kaliza, the Senior Deputy Commissioner of Police.

“In light of public interest in the recent convictions of the Lin-Zhang syndicate, this meeting is being held to answer questions from the press.

I would like to start by underlining the Malawi Police Service’s commitment to uphold the law and tackle serious organised crime, specifically the illegal trade in wildlife and forest products.

This is a commitment that is fully aligned with the Government’s resolve to ensure both ecological and social justice in Malawi. The illegal plundering of our natural resources results in substantial losses that are both environmental and economic and thus have a significant impact on our citizens.

Illegal wildlife trade has historically been viewed as a low-risk, high-reward crime. However, recent convictions of the Lin-Zhang syndicate sends a clear message to any such perpetrators that wildlife crime will not be tolerated. Let me share the details of this case.

On 4 May 2019, a Malawian citizen was travelling out of Lilongwe towards the border of Mozambique when he was stopped by police. In the boot of his car were three live pangolins.

The intelligence gathered from that arrest led to coordinated house raids by the police in the early hours of 9th and 10th May 2019. A total of nine Chinese Nationals and four Malawian Nationals were arrested at properties in Areas 3, 9, and 47, Kanengo, and Lumbadzi. Charges included firearms, explosives, pangolin scales, ivory, and rhino horn.

A subsequent three-month manhunt finally led to Yunhua Lin, the gang’s alleged notorious kingpin of this transnational wildlife trafficking syndicate.

Twelve of the fourteen members apprehended to date have so far been found guilty. Of those, seven Chinese and two Malawian nationals were last week collectively sentenced to 56.5 years in prison.

Two individuals – Mrs Quin Hua Zhang and Mr Li Hao Yaun – were also convicted on firearms offences and sentenced to 11 years in prison. They are repeat offenders who were also found guilty of ivory trafficking offences in 2017.

Note that two of Mrs Zhang’s brothers have also been convicted, and Mr Yaun is her son-in-law. She is married to Mr Yunhua Lin, the alleged kingpin, who will appear in court . He has so far pled guilty to possession of rhino horn, and is facing charges of conspiracy and money laundering.

This syndicate is indeed a clear example of organised crime. The level of collusion uncovered in this case amounts to an organised criminal enterprise, and an illicit family business. Intent to export the illicit product out of the country was also proved.

In total, authorities now arrest an average of two traffickers a week, which far outweighs the comparable pre-2014 arrest rate of 0.05. 90% of those are being convicted, and 93% of those receive custodial convictions, which average at 4 years. Those individuals who are arrested with small amounts of product may argue that they are not part of an organised crime network. However, they ultimately feed into illegal markets that requires a high level of organisation, corruption, and collusion to reach the end consumer.

What’s more, these types of organised crime networks are known to trade in a multitude of products, including gems, arms, and indeed timber and charcoal. It should be known that the Malawi Police Service is committed to disrupting all such criminal activities.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to highlight our plans to develop specialised capacity to combat forest crimes. This includes a focus on the trafficking and trade of roundwoods and charcoal, both of which feed into highly organised illegal networks to meet both local and international demand.

In the passing of the Forest Act Amendment Bill of 2020, Government recognised the gravity of forest crime, which can now attract fines up to MK10 million and custodial sentences of up to 20 years.

We will now be putting as much effort into combatting forest crime as we have wildlife crime. Both such crimes are indeed serious offences and shall be treated as such by police officers. Let this stand as an early warning. I would urge all to take note of this and help us work towards a future where the citizens of Malawi are safe, where corruption is stamped out, and where the nation’s natural resources are protected.

We look forward to working towards this vision with our partners and I thank the media for their efforts to share this information with the public at large.”