Thursday 3 March 2016

Poachers and wildlife traffickers to face prison sentences across Europe

New sentencing policy would end legal loopholes that leave wildlife crimes in many central and eastern European countries punishable by non-custodial sentences

Thursday 25 February 2016 16.38 GMTLast modified on Thursday 25 February 201616.40 GMT

Organised wildlife criminals will face prison sentences of at least four years in a crackdown on poachers, smugglers and illegal trophy hunters that the European commission is due to launch on Friday.

An action plan seen by the Guardian would force all EU countries to consider major wildlife trafficking a grave offence under the UN’s convention against transnational organised crime.
The environment commissioner, Karmenu Vella told the Guardian the package was “a bold step forward”.

He said: “It is essential that we work together. All 28 member states must consider wildlife trafficking as a serious crime. The plan will help on coordination with Europol. At a local level, communities must feel economically invested in conservation. Then we can truly tackle the issue.”

The new sentencing policy would end current legal loopholes that leave wildlife crimes in many central and eastern European countries punishable by fines and non-custodial sentences.

Only 11 EU countries imposed prison sentences on wildlife criminals in 2013-14 according to an EU staff working document on wildlife crime, seen by the Guardian.

“Concern has been expressed in a number of reports that the severity of fines and prison sentences imposed in the EU fails to reflect the seriousness of the crimes and the value of the wildlife on the international (black) market, and lack deterrent effect,” the paper says.

Werner Gowitzke, an environmental crime officer for Europol said: “The fact is that different penalties in different member states can create a bias for organised crime groups to base their activities in one country or another.”

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