The CITES office in China has released details of a number of cases involving ivory importing and trading. In the most recent case 8 people accused of illegal ivory trading received prison sentences of between 3 and 15 years. The recent case involved the import of 3.6 tonnes of ivory between 2010 and 2012.
The traders had bought the ivory online through an auction website and imported it into China marked as shipments of calligraphy brush canisters or sewage pipes. The ivory was then sold to customers in China through an online shop.
The leader of the group was sentenced to 15 years in prison and order to forfeit his $500,000 in cash. The sentences were handed out by officials in east China’s Anhui Province for smuggling.
The case is just the latest in a number of high profile ivory trade cases that have been through the justice system in China.
In a very similar case in the neighbouring Zhejiang Province, involving the same means and smuggling route, 10 individuals were sentenced to serve jail sentences of 6.5 to 15 years. Earlier this year, three Chinese citizens in Fujian Province were sentenced to periods of 7 to 15 years imprisonment for smuggling 7.7 tonnes of ivory from Africa.
More recently, on 8 November, 2013, the Supreme Court of southern China’s Guangdong Province upheld the judgment of the “court of first instance” in an ivory smuggling case, as a result of which two ivory smugglers will be jailed for 12 and 14 years for smuggling 1.04 tonnes of ivory.
While sentencing of importers and smugglers of ivory is expected to increase, partly as a result of the CITES ultimatum issued earlier in the year to China, it is not just those involved in the international trade in ivory that are being targeted in China.
People caught buying and selling ivory outside of the regulated and official market are also receiving substantial prison sentences. Earlier this month, a Chinese citizen was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in Beijing for ordering two whole ivory tusks and 168 small ivory carvings in Guangdong Province, although he claimed that they were for his own collection.
The new crackdown on illegal trading and the severe sentences being issued by authorities for even small amounts of ivory is also being more widely publicised in the hope to reduce the amount of illegal ivory being traded.
According to China’s Supreme Court, nearly 700 individuals were prosecuted during the past 10 years, with subsequent sentences for their involvement in wildlife crime ranging from 3 years to life imprisonment. They stated that ivory-related offences represented more than half of these cases in recent years.
Commenting on the increase in the number of prosecutions in China, Mr John E. Scanlon, the Secretary-General of CITES, stated that, “the efforts made in China to bring criminals involved in illegal ivory trade to justice are very encouraging. The high penalties being imposed by Chinese courts send a strong message to the people involved in this illegal trade and serve as a deterrent to others.”
Dr Meng Xianlin, Executive Director-General of the CITES Management Authority of China, stated that, “the significant seizures of smuggled ivory made in China (including Hong Kong SAR) show the tremendous efforts made by the country to combat illegal wildlife trade. Seizure is however not the end of the story, and we are working to bring more and more criminals to justice. China looks forward to working even more closely with all countries of origin, transit and destination to combat illegal trade in ivory. We can only combat wildlife crime effectively if we all work together. Together we can win this fight.”
John Scanlon added, “The high profit associated with illegal wildlife trade is a key factor driving the poaching and demand for ivory. The risk of detection, arrest and prosecution must be increased, and this must go hand-in-hand with strong penalties. The current spike in elephant poaching and illegal ivory trade must be matched by a steep rise in prosecutions and convictions, and these recent developments in China and elsewhere along the illegal supply chain are a clear step in the right direction”.
China’s Criminal Law to combat wildlife crime is amongst the most strict in the world. Whilst China abolished the death penalty for the smuggling of endangered species two years ago, those involved in illegal wildlife trade in the country still face severe penalties, which can include a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
China is increasingly active in wildlife law enforcement, and particularly in ivory-related law enforcement activities. The National Inter-Agency CITES Enforcement Collaboration Group (NICECG), which was created two years ago, has played a vital role in enhancing collaboration among relevant government bodies in the implementation and enforcement of CITES throughout the country. Earlier this year, China led “Operation Cobra”, the first cross-continent wildlife law enforcement operation, conducted by police, Customs and wildlife officers and involving 21 countries in Africa and Asia.