South Africa is working with the US to tackle illegal wildlife trade to avoid greylisting

U.S. and South African agencies will share financial information to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, a move aimed at helping SA address shortcomings in combating illicit flows reported by a global financial regulator.

A forthcoming task force will prioritize sharing “financial alerts and indicators” related to wildlife trafficking and those that overlap with investigations into high-level corruption, drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations, according to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Wednesday.

“Wildlife dealers, corrupt officials and other criminals rely on many of the same vulnerabilities in regulatory systems to combat money laundering, so our efforts to combat wildlife trafficking amplify our efforts to combat corruption and vice versa,” she said in a speech at a wildlife sanctuary north from South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. Establishing the task force will also bolster law enforcement efforts to track and recover the illegal proceeds from the wildlife trade, including abalone, rhino horn, pangolins and elephant ivory, she said.

The deal comes as the South African nation seeks not to be included on the Financial Action Task Force’s so-called gray list, which identifies nations that show deficiencies in tackling illicit financial flows. South African authorities will make a final argument against the Paris-based regulator’s designation as a jurisdiction that should be subject to enhanced surveillance at a meeting scheduled for February 23-25.

South Africa was found to be deficient on all 11 of the FATF’s anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism effectiveness measures. The assessment was conducted in 2019 after an era of endemic transplants during former President Jacob Zuma’s nine-year rule. Zuma, who resigned in 2018 under pressure from the ruling party, has denied wrongdoing.

According to the country’s central bank, the gray listing will damage South Africa’s reputation, lead to capital and currency outflows and increase transaction, administration and funding costs for banks.

President Cyril Ramaphosa signed two key pieces of legislation late last month that were seen as important in addressing the shortcomings identified by the regulator. Officials at the US Treasury Department and South Africa’s Treasury Department will also work with law enforcement agencies and the private sector to strengthen controls to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, Yellen said.

During her three-day visit to South Africa, Yellen will meet Ramaphosa and Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana.

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