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Antiques Dealer Pleads Guilty to Rhino Horn, Ivory Smuggling

Antiques Dealer Pleads Guilty to Rhino Horn, Ivory Smuggling

8 August 2013

Evidence seized by Fish and Wildlife Service special agents during searches related to a Los Angeles smuggling case is displayed. Items shown include rhino horns and parts.

Washington — A New York antiques dealer pleaded guilty August 7 in federal court in New York City to a conspiracy to smuggle Asian artifacts made from rhinoceros horns and ivory in violation of wildlife trafficking laws.

Qiang Wang, also known as Jeffrey Wang, was arrested in February as part of Operation Crash, a nationwide crackdown on the illegal trafficking of rhinoceros horns, for his role in smuggling libation cups carved from rhinoceros horns from New York to Hong Kong and China.

“Wang and others conspired in an illegal trade that is threatening the future of these species,” said Robert G. Dreher, acting assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources division of the U.S. Department of Justice. “This prosecution and continuing investigation should send a clear message to buyers and sellers that we will vigorously investigate and prosecute those who are involved in this devastating trade.”

“Today’s guilty plea ensures that Qiang Wang, who flouted domestic and international regulations by smuggling artifacts made from an endangered species out of the United States, will be held to account for his crimes,” said Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. “This office will continue to work with its law enforcement partners to hold to account anyone engaged in this illegal trade.”

“Poaching and profiteering are undermining decades of work by conservationists to stabilize and rebuild rhino and elephant populations,” Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said. “As this latest guilty plea demonstrates, we continue working with our partners in the United States and overseas to stop the slaughter and crack down on the illegal trafficking that fuels it.”

Rhino populations have declined by more than 90 percent since 1970. South Africa, for example, has witnessed a rapid escalation of incidents of poaching, rising from 13 in 2007 to more than 618 in 2012.

According to the plea agreement and statements made during court proceedings, in China there is a tradition dating back centuries of intricately carving rhinoceros horn cups. Drinking from such a cup was believed by some to bring good health, and antique carvings are highly prized by collectors. Libation cups and other ornamental carvings are particularly sought after in China and other Asian countries, as well as in the United States. The escalating value of such items has resulted in an increased demand for rhinoceros horn that has helped fuel a thriving black market, including fake antiques made from recently hunted rhinoceros.

Between approximately January 2011 and February 2013, Wang conspired with at least two others to smuggle objects containing rhinoceros horn and elephant ivory out of the United States, knowing that it was illegal to export such items without permits. Due to their dwindling populations, all rhinoceros and elephant species are protected under international trade agreements. Wang made false U.S. Customs declarations for the packages containing rhinoceros horn and ivory objects and did not declare them to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or U.S. Customs and Border Protection as required under U.S. law and international trade agreements, the Department of Justice said.

Wang, 34, of Flushing, New York, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Under the terms of the plea agreement, items recovered from Wang’s apartment, including an ivory statute found hidden behind his bed, will be forfeited. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October.

Rhinoceros are a herbivorous species of prehistoric origin and one of the largest remaining animals on Earth. They have no known predators other than humans. All species of rhinoceros are protected under United States 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 to protect fish, wildlife and plants that are or may become imperiled due to the demands of international markets.

Operation Crash is an ongoing effort to deter and prosecute those engaged in the illegal killing of rhinoceros and the unlawful trafficking of rhinoceros horns. A “crash” is the term for a herd of rhinoceros.


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