An antiques dealer from China has become the latest person to be jailed over rhino horn and elephant ivory smuggling as the US continues its crackdown.
At a court in Newark, New Jersey, on May 27,
Zhifei Li, 30, was sentenced to nearly six years in prison after
admitting he was the brains behind an international smuggling ring.
In December he had pleaded guilty to 11 counts, including
conspiracy, smuggling, illegal wildlife trafficking and making fake
documents, in connection with his orchestration of a black market
network that smuggled 30 raw rhino horns and objects made from rhino horn and elephant ivory, collectively worth more
than $4.5m, out of the USA to China.
Li was the 'boss' of three US antiques
dealers, including New York businessman Qing Wang. Items were
smuggled to Hong Kong wrapped in duct or electrical tape or
porcelain vases and then to Li in China, where he sold the raw
rhino horns to factories that carved them into fake antiques.
Leftover pieces were 'salvaged' for sale in the medicinal
Last year, Qing (aka Jeffrey) Wang, a
New York antiques dealer, who was among a group of linked
defendants arrested in January and February 2013, pleaded guilty to
conspiring to smuggle rhino horn and elephant ivory artefacts out
of the US to Hong Kong in violation of US wildlife protection
On December 5, 2013, Wang was
sentenced to serve 37 months in Federal prison and three years of
supervised release; he was also ordered to forfeit ivory items that
remained in his possession.
The smugglers were targeted as part of
Operation Crash, an ongoing nationwide criminal investigation led
by the US Fish and Wildlife Service that is addressing all aspects
of US involvement in the black market rhino horn trade.
On January 10 this year, Irish
national Michael Slattery, known to be a member of a crime
organisation operating out of Ireland, was sentenced to 14 months
in prison by a Federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, after having
pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act in connection
with rhino horn trafficking. Slattery was also ordered to pay a
$10,000 fine and forfeit $50,000 in illegal proceeds.
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