Tag Archives: USA

Texas Man Pleads Guilty to Rhino and Ivory Smuggling Conspiracy

Enews Park Forest

24 Jun 2014

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—June 24, 2014. Ning Qiu, a resident of Frisco, Texas, and an appraiser of Asian art, pleaded guilty today in federal court to participating in an illegal wildlife smuggling conspiracy in which rhinoceros horns and objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory worth nearly $1 million were smuggled from the United States to China.

The guilty plea was announced by Sam Hirsch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice, John Malcolm Bales, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, and Dan Ashe, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Qiu, 43, who has worked as an Asian antique appraiser for seven years, pleaded guilty today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Don D. Bush in Plano, Texas, to a one count information charging him with conspiracy to smuggle and violate the Lacey Act.

Qiu was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

According to documents filed in federal court, Qiu admitted to acting as one of the three antique dealers in the United States paid by Zhifei Li, the admitted “boss” of the conspiracy, to help obtain wildlife items and smuggle them to Li via Hong Kong. Li was sentenced on May 27, 2014, in federal district court in Newark, New Jersey, to serve 70 months in prison for his leadership role in the smuggling conspiracy. Li arranged financing, negotiated the price and paid for rhino horn and elephant ivory. He also gave instructions on how to smuggle the items out of the United States and obtained the assistance of additional collaborators in Hong Kong to receive the smuggled goods and then smuggle them to him in mainland China.

“This is yet another step toward dismantling a sophisticated and global network of criminals whose greed is driving endangered animals to extinction,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Hirsch. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those involved in the illicit trade of the world’s wildlife and will work with our international partners to battle the poaching, corruption, and transnational crime that goes along with it.”

“I am pleased that the Eastern District of Texas could be a part of the ‘Operation Crash’ investigation as well as the guilty plea today, and I congratulate the investigative team for a job well done,” said U.S. Attorney Bales. “The criminal activity undertaken by the defendant in this case is a stark reminder that this matter is not about serving Asian cultural and medicinal practices; it’s about greed, organized crime and the depletion of a species that – without our focused efforts to fight this trade – may not be around for our children to see.”

“This guilty plea by another participant in one of the largest criminal trafficking rings we’ve ever investigated – as well as the unprecedented jail time given to the rings’ leader last month – serves notice to other poachers and smugglers that we are clamping down hard on those who break international wildlife laws,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Ashe. “Working with the Department of Justice and other federal and international law enforcement agencies, we will continue to relentlessly pursue criminals whose greed and indifference to life are fueling the continued slaughter of rhinos and other vulnerable species in the wild.”

The rhinoceros is an herbivorous species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining mega-fauna on earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under U.S. and international law. Since 1976, trade in rhinoceros horn has been regulated under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a treaty signed by more than 170 countries around the world to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.

In pleading guilty, Qiu admitted that he worked at an auction house in Dallas as an appraiser of Asian artwork and antiques, specializing in carvings made from rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory. Qiu admitted to meeting Li in 2009 through his work at the auction house, and then entering into a conspiracy with Li whereby Qiu traveled throughout the U.S. to purchase raw and carved rhinoceros horns and elephant ivory for Li, often receiving specific instructions from Li on which items to buy and how much to pay. Upon purchasing the items, Li transferred funds directly into Qiu’s bank accounts in the U.S. and China. After acquiring the items for Li, Qiu arranged for them to be smuggled to a location in Hong Kong, which was provided by Li.

As part of his plea, Li admitted that he sold raw rhinoceros horns worth approximately $3 million – approximately $17,500 per pound – to factories in China where the horns are carved into fake antiques known as zuo jiu (which means “to make it as old” in Mandarin). In China, there is a centuries-old tradition of drinking from intricately carved “libation cups” made from rhinoceros horn. Owning or drinking from such a cup is believed by some to bring good health, and true antiques are highly prized by collectors. The escalating value of such items has resulted in an increased demand for rhinoceros horn that has helped fuel a thriving black market, including recently carved fake antiques. The leftover pieces from the carving process were sold for alleged “medicinal” purposes even though rhino horn is made of compressed keratin, the same material in human hair and nails and has no proven medical value.

Between 2009 and 2013, Qiu purchased and smuggled to Hong Kong at least five raw rhinoceros horns weighing at least 20 pounds. Qiu smuggled the raw rhino horns by first wrapping them in duct tape, hiding them in porcelain vases and falsely describing them on customs and shipping documents, including by labeling them as porcelain vases or handicrafts.

As part of the plea agreement, having considered Qiu’s cooperation and assistance in securing a conviction for Li, the government agrees to recommend to the sentencing judge that Qiu serve a 25-month prison sentence and pay a $150,000 fine. Sentencing will be before District Court Judge Richard Schell on a date to be determined by the court.

The investigation is continuing and is being handled by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas and the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section. The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney James Noble of the Eastern District of Texas and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner of the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section of the Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Article link:

http://www.enewspf.com/latest-news/law-and-order/federal-and-international/53938-texas-man-pleads-guilty-to-rhino-and-ivory-smuggling-conspiracy.html

I-Team links Chicago ivory smuggling to terrorists

abc7Chicago
May 06, 2014

May 6, 2014 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — The I-Team investigates a global smuggling network linked to Chicago that is killing animals in the name of luxury art and authorities say is financing terrorism.

It’s a multi-billion-dollar problem, agony and ivory. The smuggling of ivory through major shipping hubs like Chicago props up international terrorism and organized crime groups.

The I-Team uncovers how some sellers are getting around new federal rules to curb the ivory trade and doing it in plain sight.

This is the Chicago battlefield in a war on illicit ivory smuggling, a war that starts more than 6,000 miles away on the African Savannah, with poachers taking down elephants for their tusks.
At a warehouse near O’Hare International Airport, United States Fish and Wildlife officers train an ivory-sniffing dog to hunt for elephant ivory, much of it on the way to the Far East.

Amanda Dickson/ Wildlife Inspector “The economy is growing in those countries and the demand for it has really skyrocketed,” said wildlife inspector Amanda Dickson. “People have money, it’s a status symbol, it’s considered good luck.”

The problem is so extensive that last fall federal officials organized a massive ivory crush at the federal illegal ivory stockpile in Colorado.

They hope that by destroying all of these statues and trinkets, and imposing tough new rules that make it extremely difficult to legally sell ivory, they can cause the public’s appetite to plummet and dropping demand would mean fewer elephants slaughtered.

But for years, federal laws have lacked real enforcement, allowing a shadowy global smuggling network to flourish.

“It’s much easier for a criminal to make money off of it, and then if they get caught, it’s just a slap on the wrist,” Dickson said.

At a recent Chicago inspection, one package stood out to wildlife law enforcement, marked “carved figure.”

“This is a piece of ivory that’s been carved to look like a skull,” said Dickson.

This bizarre skull is from an actual elephant tusk sold on eBay as “faux ivory.”

“Lot of times they do call it faux ivory but they know the difference because they’re paying much more for it than if it was a piece of plastic,” Dickson said.

Searching “faux ivory” on eBay turns up lots of high-priced items: Statues, decorative objects, sometimes offered for thousands of dollars.

Experts tell the I-Team the play on words is often a ploy, disguising real ivory to avoid the new rules against selling it.

“Faux ivory, fake ivories, basically have no value,” said Farhad Radfar, MIR Appraisers. “Everyone can see, they sell them for thousands of dollars and people who buy them, they know they’re real ivories. They’re getting around the law, lying right in the daylight.”

They aren’t just poachers. Worldwide crime funding can be traced back to profits from illegal ivory sales. A recent human rights report even linked ivory smuggling to North Korea’s brutal regime, as one of the rogue state’s main profit centers.

“It’s facilitating all sorts of illicit activities,” said Tom Cardamore, Global Financial Integrity. “Terrorist elements and organized crime use the proceeds of these activities to fund their own illegal activities.”

So, Chicago-based federal agents police the problem, box by box.

“If you have too many folks out there hunting these animals, killing these animals, they’re not able to reproduce quickly enough, so then what we have then is the extinction of the species,” said wildlife inspector Ryan Colburn.

“It’s not the whole puzzle but it’s one small piece and we’re hoping to make some impact,” Dickson said.

The Obama administration’s new rules against ivory trafficking are so strict, some Chicago auction houses say they are no longer able to sell legitimate antiques. Some of the nation’s top art and antique dealers are considering legal action against the government to overturn the ivory ban.

US bans commercial ivory trade

PHOTO | AFP KWS officer arranging some of 1,099 pieces of ivory tusks a the port of Mombasa August 21, 2013. The United States clamped down on the domestic trade of elephant ivory Tuesday as part of a new drive to help African countries stem the threat to wildlife from poachers.

PHOTO | AFP KWS officer arranging some of 1,099 pieces of ivory tusks a the port of Mombasa August 21, 2013. The United States clamped down on the domestic trade of elephant ivory Tuesday as part of a new drive to help African countries stem the threat to wildlife from poachers.

By AFP

WASHINGTON

The United States clamped down on the domestic trade of elephant ivory Tuesday as part of a new drive to help African countries stem the threat to wildlife from poachers.

The White House administrative action bans all commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques, as well as all commercial exports — except for bona fide antiques and certain other items.

The outlawed ivory trade is mostly fuelled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhino horns are used in traditional medicine and to make ornaments.

Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years where, besides targeting rhinos, gangs eyeing lucrative international markets have slaughtered whole herds of elephants for their tusks.

“This ban is the best way to help ensure that US markets do not contribute to the further decline of African elephants in the wild,” the White House said in a statement.

It said federal departments and agencies would immediately take actions to, among other things, clarify what constitutes an antique.

“To qualify as an antique, an item must be more than 100 years old and meet other requirements under the Endangered Species Act.”

“The onus will now fall on the importer, exporter, or seller to demonstrate that an item meets these criteria.”

Other measures include limiting to two the number of African elephant sport-hunted trophies that can be imported by an individual each year.

The crackdown on ivory is a key aspect of a new national strategy for combating wildlife trafficking, also unveiled Tuesday, that has been in the works for some time.

SIGNED AN ORDER

During a trip to Tanzania last year, President Barack Obama signed an executive order for a $10 million program to reduce the practice in Africa.

That led to the setting up of a task force to develop the strategy to crack down on the lucrative trade — estimated to be worth between $7 and $10 billion a year.

“The United States will continue to lead global efforts to protect the world’s iconic animals and preserve our planet’s natural beauty for future generations,” the White House said.

America is one of the world’s largest markets for wildlife products, both legal and illegal, according to senior administration officials.

“Much of the trafficking in ivory and other wildlife products either passes through or ends up in the United States and so we are committed to putting an end to the illegal trade in elephant ivory and also other wildlife products,” one official told reporters on a conference all.

Another said that, under the ban, it would be legal to own items made from ivory and gift these to your children or grandchildren — but it would not be legal to sell them.

“We are facing a situation where rhino horn is worth more than its weight in gold. Elephant ivory is going for as much as $1,500 a pound,” the official said.

“So we believe that an outright ban on domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn is appropriate because it will help us be more effective in law enforcement and it will demonstrate a US leadership worldwide.”

“We can’t ask other consumer nations to crack down on their domestic trade and markets unless we’re prepared to do the same here at home.”

The official said there are less than half a million elephants on the African continent today and “estimates are that we are losing as many as 35,000 elephants per year.”

The World Wildlife Fund applauded what it called an ambitious set of actions.

“Today marks a significant milestone in the global fight against wildlife crime,” said the group’s US president and chief executive, Carter Roberts.

The article above can be found in the following link: http://www.nation.co.ke/news/US-bans-commercial-ivory-trade/-/1056/2203064/-/1v7pliz/-/index.html

GLOBAL ILLEGAL IVORY TRADE INTENSIFIES

African countries want to join forces to tackle poaching

28/11/2013

For the African elephant, 2013 can be described as a bad year. Due to the recent surge in ivory prices (running to thousands of dollars per kg), it has resulted to the death of several thousands of elephants which have been killed by poachers. Just last month, in a wildlife conservation area in Zimbabwe, over 300 elephants were killed after they were poisoned by poachers using cyanide.

Official figures of elephants that have been killed by poachers in the year 2013 are still in preparation, but researchers have recently said that this year is most likely a record breaking year when it comes to the number of elephants that have been killed. According to data provided by England’s TRAFFIC NGO, which was supervised by the Cambridge recently, it is estimated that about 38 tons ivory have been seized so far. Figures from the Kenyan headquarters of “Save The Elephants”, a wildlife protection organization also indicate the same numbers. However, the researchers point out that the figures of the seized ivory need to be treated carefully, because there could be an overestimation in the numbers of ivory seized as well as the fact that there are many unreported cases of illegal ivory trade.

One elephant can produce about 5 kg of ivory, and also the fact that researchers estimate that only 10% of all the ivory has been seized. This indicates that the situation of the elephants is indeed bleak. Holly Dublin, the Chair of IUCN’s African Elephants Specialists says: “I really do not think that the situation will get better this year.”

According to official figures, in the year 2011, a total of 46.5 tons of ivory were confiscated. Samuel Wasser, director of Conservation Biology Center, University of Washington in Seattle, USA, said that the level of illegal hunting reached its peak in 2012, but 2013 could be even more severe. Considering the number of ivory, Wasser estimated that the number of elephants killed in 2011 is 50,000, while the numbers of ivory confiscated in the next 2 years was essentially flat. By inference, TRAFFIC and “Save The Elephants” estimate that the number of elephants killed each year ranges from 25,000 elephants to 35,000 elephants.

Wasser says, “These towns may have some discrepancies but the truth is based on the number of ivory seized recently, the elephants are been killed at a unprecedented speed.

In the past year, there has been an increasing number of political forces conducting joint efforts to curb illegal hunting. These criminal activities are continuously linked with the black market and terrorist groups. Next week, with the assistance of the IUCN, heads of state, scientists and ministers will meet in Gaberone, Botswana to discuss on measures against illegal hunting of elephants, including the establishment of a National Working Group, to use more stringent legal ivory trade sanctions as well as greater use of the military to deal with poachers who are using heavy machinery.

More political forces will join these efforts in the future. The Secretary General of CITES John Scanlon says “We must move quickly in the right direction.”

In a meeting held in Bangkok Thailand in March this year, representatives to the CITES parties agreed to take measures to combat illegal poaching, including inhibition of ivory demand through public education, use gene technology to track seized ivory and so on.

Ivory is a white hard object, whose main component is dentin and is similar to a bone. Ivory is one very expensive raw material, which is oftenly, processed into works of ivory, jewellery or crafts. Additionally, it is processed into billiard balls and piano keys. In order to protect the animals, ivory is a product that has been banned or been boycotted by many countries worldwide.

 

The original article of this link is: http://news.sciencenet.cn/htmlnews/2013/11/285623.shtm

 

Hong Kong Is Sitting On 30 Tons Of Ivory and Has No Plans to Destroy

By Per Liljas, TIME.com

Nov. 18, 2013
While other countries have destroyed confiscated tusks, Hong Kong stockpiles an ivory mountain. Conservations say it must be incinerated to send the right message.
———————–
When it crushed six tons of confiscated ivory on Thursday, authorities in the United States ensured that it had no chance of ending up in the wrong hands. Hong Kong, which seized more ivory between January and October this year than the U.S. has in the past twenty-five years, has yet to take the same precautions and the continued existence of its stockpile of confiscated ivory is arousing the concern of some conservationists.

China’s is the world’s leading destination for illegal shipments of elephant tusk and rhino horn, and Hong Kong a major transhipment point for the grisly but lucrative trade. The city’s cache of confiscated ivory is estimated to total around thirty tons, and wildlife groups have been calling for its destruction.

Although the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) of the Hong Kong government approved a plan to incinerate the stockpile, its own endangered species advisory committee reversed the decision last year.

“The AFCD was advised to strengthen the donation of specimens of endangered species to schools for education purposes,” a spokeswoman at AFCD says, adding that more than two hundred schools had announced their interest in such donations.

In fairness,  there is little chance of seized ivory going astray in tightly administered Hong Kong, unlike in other jurisdictions — such as the Philippines, where five tons of tusks were destroyed in June after corrupt officials were found to be looting from the stockpile.

“A place like Hong Kong generally doesn’t have a history of releasing ivory back into the market,” says Tom Milliken, elephant expert at the wildlife monitoring organization Traffic, “so it may take the decision not to incinerate.”

But some conservationists are skeptical. “Hong Kong absolutely has to incinerate its stockpile,” says Grace Ge Gabriel, Asia regional director of International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). “By keeping it, there will always be people trying to get their hands on it, and it creates a huge financial burden for the government to keep it secure.”

Above all, Gabriel thinks that Hong Kong needs to send an unequivocal message to Chinese ivory dealers.

“In the nineties, there was a campaign in China to save the Tibetan antelope, which was poached in the tens of thousands for the Western market. In the end, China burned the antelope pelts. Today, African countries are asking China to protect their elephants, because they can’t do it alone.”

Article at the following link:
http://world.time.com/2013/11/18/hong-kong-is-sitting-on-30-tons-of-ivory-and-has-no-plans-to-destroy-it/#ixzz2l2tE93x6