A Chinese court in Fujian Province has sentenced a licensed ivory trader to 15 years in prison for importing illegal ivory for sale in his shop. Two colleagues involved in the operation were also sentenced, one for 7 years and the other for 15 years.
Over the last 18 months or so there has been a boost in enforcement operations by Chinese wildlife officials and the move by the court in Fujian seems to indicate that the judiciary has no intentions of being the weakest link in the fight against wildlife criminals.
Over a six month period in 2011 the dealer, Chen Zhong, was involved in importing 7.7 tonnes of illegal ivory from China. The shipments totalled 2154 whole elephant tusks or segments and came from the equivalent of 819 elephants.
Two shipments of the ivory was exported via Kenya through Hong Kong. Another 2 shipments was exported from Tanzania marked as copper ore. A fifth shipment was sent via Nigeria. All the shipments were intercepted by Chinese customs officers. [pullquote]This is the first example of the conviction of an accredited ivory industry insider for systematically attempting to launder illegal ivory into the legal marketplace on a grand scale[/pullquote]
One of the shipments was intercepted by wildlife enforcement agents and traced to Chen where further illegal ivory was discovered in his shop.
At the trial of Chen he was initially sentenced to life imprisonment but that was reduced to 15 years after he appeal against the length of the sentence
Also sentenced at the final hearing was Hemou who was sentenced to 7 years in prison for being involved with mis-declarations of import documents and Zhao Mouqin, a middleman who Chen bought from, who was also sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The court case also added substantially to the recording of elephant poaching for 2011 as the shipments had not been notified to CITES elephant monitoring organising ETIS. Already the worst year on record the figures now mean 2011 saw 46.5 tonnes of ivory seized.
“This is the first example of the conviction of an accredited ivory industry insider for systematically attempting to launder illegal ivory into the legal marketplace on a grand scale,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s ivory trade expert.
“The magnitude of these seizures is a shocking blow to the integrity of China’s legal ivory trade system and demonstrates the need for an independent audit to be carried out.”
“2011 was already the worst year for the volume of ivory seized since records were first compiled in 1989, but this new information puts the annual total into the astronomic zone,” said Milliken.
“Authorities in China are to be congratulated for this breakthrough, but must endeavour to follow up on every possible lead to ensure this ivory supply line between Africa to China is well and truly severed,” said Milliken.
Fujian Province report on case (in Chinese)