WINDHOEK - The single greatest obstacle that law enforcement officials have in combatting wildlife crime and related smuggling is the lack of a money trail that can be used as evidence in court to secure convictions against the key organisers of such transactions.

This project exposes the key, enabling financial mechanism deployed by the local poaching and Chinese smuggling syndicates known as "Chinese Flying Money" or "Fei Qian", an ancient trade-based settlement system that operates outside of the overview of the international regulatory oversight of the formal banking system. 

The investigation followed the trail of abalone smuggled via Namibia from the Western Cape in South Africa to Hong Kong and the New Territories, illegally harvested rosewood from Angola, Zambia and the DRC sent to China and Vietnam, as well as examining the drugs-for-abalone trade in the Western and a tax fraud case in Namibia to illustrate how the Fei Qian mechanism works.

The investigation drew on sources in Spain, Hong Kong, Namibia and South Africa, ongoing and old court cases, property, company and other public records and interviews with former and current law enforcement officials to set out the politically enabling mechanism and the means by which billions of dollars are illegally but invisibly exported from Africa to China.

This chart is to help you understand the story better.


Two previous members of the team from Spain and Hong Kong withdrew from the investigation due to changes in personal circumstances.

John Grobler

John Grobler is a veteran investigative reporter based in Windhoek, Namibia, from where he has written for South Africa’s Mail & Guardian as well as The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde Diplomatique, and others.

Alex Hofford

Alex Hofford is a wildlife campaigner for WildAid, an NGO that focuses on reducing demand for endangered species.


Where the Cape abalone ends up: shucked abalone shells on top of a non-descript building in New Territories, Hong Kong, where almost all abalone smuggled from Africa ends up as part of the fei qian chain before being smuggled into Mainland China.
A grant of €7.333 was allotted on 15 November 2018.

Help us support in-depth and independent journalism.

We rely on your support to continue the work that we do. Journalismfund.eu stimulates cross-border journalism by giving journalists the money they need to do their research, by providing networking opportunities, by sharing knowledge and spreading tips.

Help us support journalism that serves the public interest, furthers accountability
as well as transparency and contributes to critical thinking and well-informed debate.

Help Journalismfund.eu support journalism that matters! 

Make a gift of any amount today.