A public appeal issued by INTERPOL operation focusing on individuals wanted for environmental crimes has led to the arrest of a Botswana fugitive in Zambia.
Believed to be one of the most wanted suspect linked to a dangerous syndicate that specialises in ivory dealings and killings of elephants, Ben Simasiku had fled from Botswana in 2012 after he and three other suspected illegal ivory traders were arrested in possession of 17 cut pieces of elephant tusks weighing approximately 115 kg.
He is one of the targets highlighted by INTERPOL’s Operation Infra Terra (International Fugitive Round Up and Arrest) and featured in a public appeal for information. Acting Criminal Investigation Director, Kesetsenao Tshweneetsile confirmed that they have, through the Directorate of Public Prosecution served Zambian authorities with extradition papers.
“At the moment we don’t know whether he is contesting extradition or not,” said Tshweneetsile.
Giving the background of Simasiku’s arrest before he fled to Zambia, Tshweneetsile said the suspect is a member of a syndicate that has been involved in ivory poaching in the Makgadikgadi pans area.
“He is a member of a syndicate that operated in the Makgadikgadi. He was arrested in 2013, but he skipped bail and fled to Zambia,” said Tshweneetsile.
Reports indicate that during an operation, investigators from Botswana and Zambia exchanged information on Simasiku ÔÇô including his suspected location in Zambia ÔÇô with the support of INTERPOL’s Fugitive Investigative Support (FIS) unit.
In parallel, the Zambia Wildlife Authority received a tipoff from a member of the public regarding a person in possession of ivory in the city of Livingstone. Through collaboration with the Zambia Police, 32-year-old Simasiku was arrested on December 2, when police also recovered jewellery made of ivory. “Crimes that harm the environment are not always looked upon as ‘serious’ crimes, which is something INTERPOL hopes to change through actions such as Operation Infra Terra. This arrest demonstrates a change in attitude: that all fugitives will be sought to face justice, regardless of the crime they have committed,” said Stefano Carvelli, Head of INTERPOL’s FIS unit.
“This case also demonstrates how increasing public awareness of how people might encounter criminal activity in their daily lives is critical for police. The alert individual who provided the tipoff to the Zambian police played an important role in the arrest. “I would like to congratulate all those involved, and encourage the public to remain vigilant to assist police worldwide in locating and arresting the remaining fugitives wanted as part of Operation Infra Terra,” concluded Mr Carvelli. Simasiku is currently awaiting extradition to Botswana.
Launched on October 6, INTERPOL’s Operation Infra Terra brought together investigators from 21 of the participating countries at the INTERPOL General Secretariat headquarters to directly share information on more than 130 suspects wanted by 36 countries for crimes including illegal fishing, wildlife trafficking, illegal trade and disposal of waste, illegal logging and trading in illicit ivory.
Details of the wanted persons, their suspected locations and any other potentially identifying information was collated and analysed, before being sent to involved countries for further action.